Monday, 6 March 2017

What’s in a Name: Immigrant or Expat?

In light of the overwhelming and ever-increasing anti-immigrant nonsense that has been inundating newsfeeds, political chatter, and the like, I thought I’d jump in with something that has been bothering me for a while now – this weird distinction between being an immigrant or an expat.

Before I get into my rant, perhaps a few definitions:
  • Immigrant: “a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.” (Merriam-Webster…I think)
  • Expatriate: “(often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of their citizenship.” (Wikipedia)

Now let’s, just for a second stop and give those definitions a moment of consideration. Both describe folks that opt to live in another country. There is no mention of circumstance or motive. The only distinction between the two, is that expat can also mean a temporary move. But with that being said, let’s move this along…

Outside of these definitions, there is an image we tend to think of when either of these words are thrown out there. One is perceptively more positive than the other. This is because the term expat generally refers to a Westerner moving elsewhere (including, perhaps, another Western country). They also tend to be thought of as white, and arguably middle-aged men… By social definition, I, your favourite Orange Canadian, would be considered an expat.

Immigrant, on the other hand, comes with a more… negative, shall we say, connotation. Nowadays, especially, this term is associated with Middle Eastern folk, and thanks to the world’s favourite President of the United States, Donald Trump, Muslim/terrorist/insert your choice word here. There’s also a perception of poverty, lacking education, and a number of other rationale for wanting to come to whatever country they’ve moved to.

To break this down more simply – an expat is someone with expertise bestowing greatness on their newfound home, while an immigrant is a burden to society and not necessarily worthy of the country they now call home*.

But here’s the thing that I can’t quite seem to wrap my head around – why is there such a distinction? Why is one direction viewed as better, more dignified than the other?

I’ll be honest – I don’t consider myself an expat. I’ve very much in the process of immigrating to Uganda at least for the short-long term. As far as the long-long term, who knows, but it will most likely not involve an extended residence in my home country, at least not in the distant foreseeable future. In fact, I try to distance myself as much as possible from these so-called expats, because the vast majority of those I’ve encountered that identify as such fill that typical expat lifestyle/attitude. And, really, it’s pretty unattractive.

As I become older and try, more consciously, to better understand the world I live in, I seem to struggle with simple concepts that others seem to so easily pass off as acceptable. But this is one that I just can’t move away from. When I think about the immigrants in Western countries that I have met, there have been numerous folks that are far more highly educated – and specialized in their training – than I could ever hope to be. But these achievements are not as readily accepted, because we’ve been trained to focus on the physical, rather than the things that actual have merit.

Maybe I’m just over tired. Maybe I’m just sweaty and needing to rant. But, for the life of me, I can’t figure this one out. If expats are perceived as giving a certain level of expertise, knowledge or other notion to the area they reside – be it temporary or permanent in length – then what of those who have had profound and lasting impacts upon their immigration?

-the Orange Canadian

*Not my beliefs, just summing up the stereotypes I’ve heard over and over concerning these definitions. 

No comments:

Post a Comment