Yai's Family Story

Yai's Family Story

Founder Leland tells the story of his mom and Yai (grandma) leaving Thailand and coming to America.

Founder Leland's family gathered on stairs around Yai (grandma)PICTURED: Yai's family. Four generations surrounding Yai (center, yellow shirt.) Founders Leland & Sarah back left.

I am a second-generation Thai American. My mom emigrated from Thailand in the early 70’s at age 12, joining her older siblings and her parents - my Yai* (grandmother) and Dtaa** (grandfather). Our family now spans four generations from coast to coast.

Map of Thailand - Pathum Thani Province
My family is originally from Pathum Thani, a province in central Thailand known for its rice paddies. Now part of the Bangkok metro area, Pathum Thani was a much more rural town at the time my mom grew up there. Many members of my extended family still live in that area, but my closest relatives all live in the states now.

My Yai and Dtaa immigrated to the United States in the 1960’s. My Dtaa served in the Royal Thai Forces, and they had seen glimpses of a better life through his military travels. My grandparents immigrated to San Francisco with an entrepreneurial spirit; they opened a Thai restaurant, and my Yai opened a beauty shop at the same time until the restaurant could support them both. While they were getting their footing and building a foundation in this new country, their kids (including my mom) stayed back in Thailand.

Pam (Leland's mom), Thailand floating market, Sawadee sign on house, fresh Thai ingredientsTOP LEFT: Leland's mom, Pam (Pangrom)

During this time, my mom grew up with her Yai back in the countryside of Thailand, helping with the twice-daily trips to the market, gathering fresh ingredients for curries straight from their garden, and learning all the traditional Thai cooking methods passed down through generations. She wasn’t old enough to join her siblings in Bangkok, or to go with them when they first left for the United States.

When she was 12, my mom immigrated to San Francisco to join the rest of her family. My grandparents’ Thai restaurant had taken off, and my mom, aunt, and uncles all helped my Yai and Dtaa to run the place. It was a family-owned and operated restaurant in every way! My mom and her siblings each developed a love of cooking and continued on this path, opening several of their own restaurants in the Bay Area.

Yai with her children, Uncle preparing food, Yai and sisterTOP RIGHT: Yai with granddaughter, Etta (Leland's sister) | BOTTOM RIGHT: Leland's Uncle Da | TOP LEFT: Thai family feast | BOTTOM LEFT: Yai with her children, left to right - Pam, Yai, Uncle Da, Aunt Nid

Despite my mom not speaking a lick of English when she entered the American school system, she found her way through and graduated high school. She spent many years working with her family in their Thai restaurants before meeting my dad and having me and my sister, Etta.

Food is such a central part of Thai culture, and in a family of restaurant-owners and chefs, food IS the culture!

- Leland

 

*Yai rhymes with Thai! This one’s easy.
**Dtaa is pronounced close to “da,” but with a little extra *t* in there. The /dt/ sound is made by pressing the tongue against the upper teeth.
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