Sexual Cultures and Migration in the Era of AIDS: Anthropological and Demographic Perspectives

By Gilbert Herdt | Go to book overview

10
Mobility, Marriage, and Prostitution:

Sexual Risk among Thai in the Netherlands

HAN TEN BRUMMELHUIS

Until the Second World War, it was a commonly held assumption that Thai never migrate to other countries. Thai were not thought to be able to survive without rice and Buddhism. Developments since the Second World War have belied such assumptions. Now, some observers tend to presuppose a special Thai talent for mobility and survival abroad. With regard to the past, however, the statement ' Thai do not migrate' must also be qualified. Actually, processes of (im)migration and mobility were crucial to the formation and maintenance of the old Thai social fabric and polity.

These shifting patterns of mobility form a background against which recent movements of Thai to Europe should be understood. This chapter's theme is the recent formation of small Thai communities in several European countries (for example, Germany, Scandinavia, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands). The data presented are collected in Holland and particularly reflect the situation in Amsterdam. The main perspective, however, is the question of AIDS risk and how to deal with this adequately. Although Thai form a comparatively small group among ethnic migrants in Europe, the connection between them and the AIDS epidemic is more than ephemeral. It is generally known that Thailand, especially its northern part, constitutes one of the epicentres of the epidemic in Asia (the spread of HIV in Thailand is well documented, probably better than for any Western country, see Wenigeret al., 1991; Brown and Werasit, 1993; Brown and Xenos, 1994; Brownet al., 1994; Werasit and Brown, 1994).

In Holland, as in most European countries, a sense of reassurance that the epidemic is under control dominates the general attitude towards AIDS. There are, however, disquieting statistics about a relative increase of AIDS among women and ethnic minorities. Contact with highly endemic areas is now an officially acknowledged form of risk and some observers voice concern about the possibility of the reintroduction of HIV into the general population through the intermediary of certain ethnic groups. Although focusing on the risks posed by a specific ethnic group could provide material for blaming or stigmatizing this

____________________
I have especially to acknowledge the use of material from interviews held by Irene Stengs, Miriam Schieveld, and Jan Willem de Lind van Wijngaarden, of archival data collected by Renée Hoogenraad, and of Dutch AIDS and Amsterdam STD figures provided by Loes Singels (NIGZ) and Frits van Griensven (GG&GD). I am grateful to Gilbert Herdt, Mirjam Schieveld, and Lisa Dondero for making comments that were helpful in the organizing and rewriting of the text.

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