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A look into the Latino-Hispanic community of Phuket

PHUKET: September is an important month in the Latin American calendar, with many Latin nations – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua – celebrating their independence days.

By Jean-Pierre Mestanza

Wednesday 17 September 2014, 05:14PM

And while festivities take place for Central American nations, all in Latin America continue to identify with one another – connected by a common language and culture.
Phuket is no exception.

The island’s small but proud population of Latinos, from several countries in the western hemisphere, have been growing for several years. They are artists, chefs, instructors, business owners, and friends who often come together to celebrate a common culture (and a lot of food on their plates).

“When I moved to Phuket eight years ago, there were not many Latin American people living on the island,” said Ana Milena, a Colombian expat.

“I used to meet Latinos at parties or other events, some of them were here just on holidays. These past few years this situation has changed, especially with the growth in the tourism industry in Phuket.”

Four years ago, Milena connected with a group of South American women online who met every week. After many of them moved away, the group dissolved. But earlier this year, Diego Gu, an Argentinian expat, founded a Facebook group (Latinos in Phuket) that has quickly become a close-knit community.

“After more than a decade abroad, I don’t often feel homesick. However, I have the need to connect to my roots and to meet other Latin friends in Phuket. For me, this is so magical that I want other people to feel the magic as well,” Gu said, explaining why he began the group.

“Even though there are many countries in Latin America, we share the same culture and traditions but more importantly we speak the same language and for all of us just getting together to speak Spanish is priceless,” Milena added.

Other than language, food is high on the list of Latin-centricism. And just like Asia, every country has a distinct cuisine.

Though Phuket’s Latino population consists largely of South Americans from all over the continent, Latin restaurants on the island mostly offer Mexican cuisine (with the exception of two Argentinian steakhouses).

“One of the similarities between Thai and Mexican culture is the spicy food. Not too many people can handle the heat here, but most Central Americans can,” said Roger Huerta, an American with Mexican and Salvadoran roots.

Due to his occupation as an MMA fighter and coach at Tiger Muay Thai in Chalong, Huerta’s connection to his culture on the island is limited to a few dinners at local Mexican restaurants. But when a Spanish speaker rocks up to one of his classes, a smile goes over his face.

“It’s interesting and pretty cool. I am able to practice Spanish with them,” he said, adding that he also misses good Latin dancing.

Other similarities between the Latino and Thai cultures can be viewed through the scope of lifestyle. While tourists flock to Phuket for a taste of “sabai sabai”, Latinos know this all too well and don’t hesitate to let you know.

“There are a lot of similarities, especially the love for the food, the passion for their culture, the very laid back way of living and the way [both cultures] stick together,” said Mexican expat Pablo Uribe.

QSI International School Phuket

Despite living in Phuket for the past eight years, Uribe says he wants to pass on his roots to his children.

“I try to teach my daughter the most I can about Mexican culture, so by doing that I’m always remembering and reliving my Mexican roots,” he said.

A bit of culture can go a long way, as Ecuadorian expat Alvaro Villota explains.
“As we are so far from South America, the few things that can keep us close to the culture are the food and the gatherings with the latin group,” he says.

Latino or Hispanic?

Terms like “Hispanic” and “Latino” are often said but misunderstood. What do they mean?

In a nutshell, Hispanics are people whose ancestry comes from a country where they speak the Spanish language and comes from the Latin word for Spain (Hispania, which later became España). Depending on who you talk to, however, the definition gets a bit muddy since it largely refers to people from Latin America but can also refer to people from Spain, though it is not common. This group does not include Brazilians, since they speak Portuguese.

In contrast, Latino refers to people who are from the specific geographic location of Latin America, which includes countries in the Carribbean (Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic), Central America, and South America. Therefore, this excludes the people of Spain while Brazilians can be considered Latinos (though it is not common).

Julio Cesar Chavez (legendary boxer)
From: Mexico
Hispanic or Latino? Both

Lula da Silva
(former President of Brazil)
From: Brazil
Hispanic or Latino? Latino

From: Colombia
Hispanic or Latina? Both

Language Exchange

Thank you = Gracias
What’s up = Que tal?
How are you? = Como estas?
How much? = Cuanto cuesta?
Where is he/she? = Donde esta?
I like that = Me gusta
I miss you = Te extraño
Yes = Si
No = No
Delicious = Delicioso
I want more = Quiero mas!

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