‘Luk kreung’ and Concepts of Mixed Race in Thailand

Recently I’ve written a post about Thai beauty ideals and the desire for ‘fair skin’ pointing out that in Thailand, Western beauty concepts prevail even though the country has never been colonized by a European nation. In this context, it is interesting to note that there is nowadays a considerable number of part-Thai people who are successful and prominent in Thai popular culture. We might be justified in speaking of a rise of the so-called ‘luk kreung’ in Thailand’s entertainment industry.

Concepts of Mixed Race

Hugo & Palmy (photo credit: music.mthai.com)

Hugo & Palmy, successful Luk kreung, mixed race people (photo credit: music.mthai.com)

In fact, in the time of the Vietnam War, during the 1960s and 70s, a large number of mixed race children were born from Thai women and American soldiers. Literally translated the Thai colloquial term ‘Lukkreung’ (ลูกครึ่ง) means ‘half-child’. It is used to refer to people who are of mixed Thai and European origin. Nevertheless, according to the official dictionary of Thai words, the term describes “a person whose parents are of different races, also called khrueng chat (ครึ่งชาติ)”. That is to say a ‘half-child’ does not necessarily have to be Eurasian.

Nevertheless, ‘luk kreung’ were perceived sceptically and also paradoxically in the 1960s and 70s. On the one hand, they were regarded as the offspring of Thai prostitutes, ‘rented wives’ or ‘mail-order’ brides and American GIs, even though this was not always true, since some of the American soldiers formed lasting relationships with Thai women and settled down in Thailand. On the other hand, ‘half-children’ have been seen as desirable, modern and attractive racially mixed people.

On the whole, we may say that in the 1960s and 70s racially mixed children faced some discrimination but generally society in Thailand was accepting. However, today there are many racially mixed people who have attracted Thai public attention, with growing numbers of celebrities, television stars and actors of mixed origin. Some examples of these stars I’ve recently mentioned in my posts. Think of Hugo Chakrabongse Levy, the ‘royal rocker of Thailand’, Palmy, the popular Thai-Belgian singer, David Usher, Thai-Canadian singer and creativity expert, Thai movie star Ananda Everingham, actress and fashion model Florence V. Faivre , the lovely actress Mai Davika Hoorne, actor Mario Maurer, singer Chin Chinawut or the Thai-Danish entrepreneur Michael Corp Dyrendal who is the younger brother of the well-known half-Thai singer, model and actor Peter Corp Dyrendal. And think of the ‘Princess of Thai Entertainment’ Ann Thongprasom and popular Thai-British actress Paula Taylor. Indeed the list is long… 😉

David Usher, Thai-Canadian singer went from 90s rocker to today's creativity guru (photo credit: lametropole.com)

David Usher, Thai-Canadian singer went from 90s rocker to today’s creativity guru (photo credit: lametropole.com)

Thus, today the majority of ‘luk kreung’ people in Thailand are born of relationships and marriages when Europeans come to live and work in Thailand. Another possible case is when Thai people go abroad to study in Western or foreign countries and settle down and start a family there. Hence, in the last decades Thailand has become quite enamored with half-Thai people. That is to say that many mixed race, part-Thai people have ridden a wave of popularity in the Thai media and entertainment industry.

There are different reasons why ‘luk kreung’ people are successful in Thailand today. A very important factor is their Western features and often proficient English language skills. In fact, half or part-Thai persons also match the predominant Thai beauty ideal of a Western look (i.e. light skin colour, large eyes and a tall physique). These are features that are generally considered attractive and desirable in Thailand. An extremely prominent example of this popularity is the acting and pairing of Urassaya Sperbund (Yaya) and Nadech Kugimiya (Barry). They have captured so many fans in Thailand where the two are now the most popular ‘couple’ of this generation. Both Yaya and Barry are half-Thai people. Yaya Urassaya is Thai-Norwegian and Nadech Kugimiya is Thai-Austrian.

Nadech & Yaya (photo credit Amat Nimitpark via asianfuse.net)

Nadech & Yaya (photo credit: Amat Nimitpark via asianfuse.net)

Thus, today Thai youth and teenage culture is deep in love with the looks of the ‘luk kreung’. For this reason, it doesn’t seem surprising that part-Thai people are prominent in Thai popular culture and are thus also important in constructing Thainess.

Nonetheless, the prominence of half-Thai people in Thailand today does not only apply to those who are of Thai and European heritage. If we consider the example of the world famous golfer Tiger Woods, who is of Thai and Afro-American origin, we realize that he has become a symbol that linked success to Thai identity. In addition, he was portrayed as a cultural hybrid through his career and international golfing tournament success. Hence, this shows that although dark skin is generally less popular in Thailand than fair skin, people of racially mixed origin with non-European heritage can become acknowledged and grab Thailand’s public attention too.

Tiger Woods (photo credit: people.com)

Tiger Woods (photo credit: people.com)

Summing up, we may claim that today mixed race people with part-Thai origin are acknowledged and quite popular in Thailand. This is particularly true of Thai-European people matching the predominant Thai beauty ideal of a light complexion and a tall statue. What is more, there also seems to be proof that half-Asian people have general advantages

What do you think about the rise of ‘luk-kreung’ in Thai popular culture?

Yours, Sirinya




Thai ‘Royal Rocker’ Hugo Chakrabongse Levy

Last time I was in Thailand, I went to the house of my grand cousin and that was the first time I saw a music video of the Thai singer and songwriter Hugo Chakrabongse Levy who is an internationally acclaimed musician. The wife of my grand cousin asked my if I knew Hugo and she told me that he is related to the Thai royal family. Hence, I became curious to know more about this artist because he is part-Thai and proficient in both English and Thai. Thus, he sings songs both in English and Thai language as well.

Royal Rocker Hugo*

Royal Rocker Hugo*

Hugo Chakrabongse Levy’s Story

Hugo Chakrabongse Levy, born 1981 in England, is the great great grandson of King Rama V (Chulalongkorn). Hugo was raised in Thailand and his Thai name is Chulachak Chakrabongse. His artist name is the mononym ‘Hugo’.

Hugo Chakrabongse Levy*

Hugo Chakrabongse Levy*

In fact, Hugo’s mother is M.R. Narisa Chakrabongse, the daughter of Prince Chula Chakrabongse and granddaughter of ‘Katya – The Russian Princess of Siam’. Hugo’s father is the British-Jewish songwriter Allen Levy. When Hugo’s parents divorced, he moved with his mother to Thailand. In his adolescence, he became a singer in different bands and also worked as an actor in various Thai soap operas. As a matter of fact, Hugo’s music was not very popular in Thailand at first when he started his career with the band Siplor in 2001. However, he was recognized in the USA and became famous. Today, the CNN even calls him the ‘royal rocker of Thailand’!

Making independent music at first in Thailand, Hugo later turned more to mainstream music, claiming “take The Doors, The Beatles or even our very own Carabao. They are all popular mainstream bands and no one would ever doubt their credibility. That’s what I want to do.”(Hugo quoted from CNN)

Hugo became particularly recognized when his song ‘Disappear’ was featured on Beyoncé’s album “I Am…Sasha Fierce”. Hugo also featured the song ‘Disappear’ beautifully with Thai-Belgian singer Palmy. Hence, Jay-Z signed Hugo to his label Roc Nation. Thus, Hugo became very popular with his cover of Jay-Z song “99 Problems”. It was Hugo’s first single and it became a great blues song because it was additionally featured in the romantic comedy ‘No Strings Attached’ with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. What is more, Hugo has been in some commercials like for instance this one for JASPAL.

In 2013, Hugo had the starring role in Young Bao the Movie which is about the life and times of Thailands most famous Rock band Carabao.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjQsuEoDXh0

Today Hugo lives both in the USA (New York) and in Thailand. In fact, he feels very much attached to Thailand. He says that he wants to come home and enjoy an early retirement with his family and friends in Thailand.

One might be justified in saying that Hugo is not a typical Thai singer. However, do you like his music and do you accept him as a Thai musician?

Hugo Chakrabongse - example of a distinctively mixed heritage (img.kapook.com)

Hugo – example of a distinctively mixed heritage (photo credit: img.kapook.com)

I think Hugo Chakrabongse Levy is kind of special because he is recognized in the Western world and also in Asia. Hence, he is one of the Thai celebrities with mixed origin. In my opinion, this is a great and special achievement 🙂 He seems to feel home in both worlds.

Yours, Sirinya

*photo credit: Hugo, FB page