I’ve referred to myself as both expat and immigrant but think that perhaps I have been mistaken about the “expat” self-reference. An expat is someone who still largely identifies with his/her country of origin. It is who they are. Even with permanent residence/green card status or even dual citizenship, the land of birth still trumps. But an immigrant is someone who wishes to assimilate and take on the new country as his/her identifier. They acquire first residence and then the second citizenship with an eye toward becoming a part of the new land.
In the United States, people bemoan “immigrants” who do not seem to want to be Americans. I would argue that this so-called immigrants are really expats who’ve come to America for political, economic, career or education reasons but who see themselves primarily as citizens of their native land. In that way, how are they different from Americans who pursue work opportunities in other countries for short or long periods of time but consider themselves always American – not bothering to learn the language or make friends locally and living in enclaves of other Americans?
The answer, of course, is that they are not different. But it is a very white versus not so much kind of prejudice that is not attractive or admitted to. Brits, Americans, Europeans, Australians and Japanese refer to themselves as expats but consider Eastern Europeans, Asians, Latinos and Africans immigrants.
In my opinion, if one leaves his/her nation of origin to settle permanently in another country that person is an immigrant. Even if he/she stubbornly refuses to mix, learn local customs and language and generally remains an elitist snob about the whole thing. When you leave to live forever somewhere else, you have emigrated and are therefore an immigrant. This state of being is further compounded by marrying locally, producing children and obtaining legal status up to but not always including dual citizenship.
Expat, really, has this sort of British colonial taint to it. It reminds me of stories of colonials living in India or Africa during the days of Queen Victoria and later under King Edward. Privileged white people enjoying semi-royal lifestyles at the expense of a local population who was considered second-class and expected to appreciate servitude in exchange for pathetic monetary “reward”. All quite Kipling minus the adventure.
It’s important, I think, to know who you are. Expat or immigrant. It informs others as much as it forms your purpose. Given that, it’s time for me to drop the expat and go full on immigrant. My ancestors left Sweden and Ireland to become Americans. They were proud, I am sure, of their heritage but I highly doubt any of them referred to themselves as hyphens. Irish-Americans or Swedish-Americans. They were just Americans (although before the Civil War, I guess that state would have trumped country). Therefore, I am a Canadian in the making. No hyphen.
- America: Love It – Or Go Expat And Leave It? (sovereign2serf.wordpress.com)
- What Really Happens When You Live As an Expat (anniegirl1138.com)
- Why “expat” is a misleading term for multicultural couples (thedisplacednation.com)