Thailand’s Khmer as ‘Invisible Minority’: Language, Ethnicity and Cultural Politics in North-Eastern Thailand
(Faculty of Political Science, Ubon Ratchathani University, Thailand)
Ethnic Khmer speakers in Thailand number over a million. Yet, despite their largenumbers, they are regarded as an ‘invisible minority’, largely inconspicuous in the nation’s arena of cultural politics. Their invisibility has, to some extent, to do with their overall cultural similarity with surrounding ethnic Lao speakers of Thailand’s north-eastern ‘Isan’ region; like Isan Lao, they are syncretic Theravada Buddhists, and their village life revolves around wet rice agriculture. Such similarity contrasts with the conspicuous differences marking other minorities of Thailand, such as the Muslims in the south, or highlanders in the north. But Khmer invisibility is also the result of cultural politics at the national level, and with the specific histories of these nation-states in the modern period. This paper examines the apathy towards Khmer identity in Thailand, both in the historical context of Thai nation-building and in specific language policies and practices.
Keywords: Northern Khmer, Thailand, ethnicity, nationalism, cultural politics