Thais in America are often mistaken as Chinese, Japanese, or as another Asian ethnicity. This often makes their presence less visible to American communities. Such is the case with the Thai community of Layton, Utah. Although many Utahns enjoy eating Thai food, they would not be able to tell you where Utah’s Thai population is most prevalent. Like many other Thai communities in the United States, Utah’s largest Thai community is found near a military base. Just south of Hill Air Force Base in Layton, Thais have been living and thriving for over fifty years.
Between 1960 and 1970, a wave of Thai immigrants came to the United States and some settled in Utah. Most of the first immigrants were women and many were wives of American servicemen who had been stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War. When their husbands returned to Hill Air Force Base in Northern Utah, Thai women followed. This small group of Thai women opened the path for growth in their community that caused many Thai immigrants to become aware of Utah as a potential relocation spot with a pre-established Thai community. According to the 2000 Census, the Thai population in Utah reached over 1,200 people with most of those immigrants living in Davis County (Perlich, 17).
The Thai community in Utah is different from other Asian enclaves. Unlike many other Southeast Asian immigrants at the time, most of the Thai did not come as refugees. Many groups like the Hmong, Loatians, Cambodians, and Vietnamese came to the United States in an effort to escape the atrocities of war. Thais, on the other hand, came of their own free will. Many came for the purpose of pursuing a higher education or to move closer to loved ones who were already here. Across the United States the story is similar as most members of Thai communities are teachers, doctors or other medical practitioners, or entrepreneurs that own private businesses. Thais and Thai-Americans pride themselves in being citizens who contribute to their local economies and help build their local communities.
Over ninety percent of all Thai immigrants are Buddhist. To serve the Buddhist members of the Thais in Layton, a Thai Buddhist Temple graces Gordon Avenue. The uniquely shaped building is home to several monks who came here from Thailand for the purpose of ministering to worshippers in Utah. The monks are supported solely by donations from the temple’s weekly attendees. The Wat Dhammagunaram Temple was first established in 1975 and moved to its current location in 1995. The temple follows the tradition of Theravada Buddhism with services offered in Thai and the traditional Pali language of Theravada Buddhism. In an effort to maintain their Thai culture and share it with the surrounding community, the Thai Temple also offers meditation classes and holds food festivals with traditional Thai recipes. While not many have known about Utah’s Thai community in Layton, it is still thriving and continues to share the highlights of their culture with anyone who is interested.