Immigration


English: Dira Square (also known as Chop Chop ...

English: Dira Square (also known as Chop Chop Square by expats), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Taken by BroadArrow in 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

 


British Passport, Canada, Thailand

British Passport, Canada, Thailand (Photo credit: dcgreer)

An experience doesn’t have to be perfectly unique to be worthy of sharing. – Chelsea Fagan

Came across a link to Thought Catalog today and read a post by an American expat, trying to quantify the experience of living aboard. She writes about “fear” and “longing” and the inevitability of finding ex-pats huddled together in bars discussing home and the leaving of it.

Maybe it’s a European expat thing because there are certainly enclaves and gathering holes a plenty for immigrants around the area of Alberta where I live. Ukrainians. Dutch. Scots. Brits. Quebecers. Hutterites. But I have yet to find Americans hanging out. Maybe it’s because we blend in so well despite our decidedly non-Canadian accents? You just don’t see American expat groups and among those of us who are making this or that part of Canada our home, there is a feeling of having narrowly escaped a lifetime of … it’s hard to put into words that don’t come off as elitist or lefty liberal or even Eduardo Saverin traitorous.

Much of the article rang no bells for me. I am not in Canada pursing an education, career or some “eat, pray, love” quasi-spiritual artist way quest. I came here the modern-day equivalent of a mail order bride of the virtual variety. And I am not even unique because I know at least one other widowed mom who crossed the border to marry a Canadian within roughly the same time frame as I did under circumstances that are more similar than not.

The only fear I can recall was that of not being allowed to cross over the border or be allowed to stay once I did. The Canadian government casts a less jaundiced eye on marital immigration than does the United States (so long as the bride isn’t from the Philipines) but the process for sponsoring a foreign born wife teems with tedious amounts of paperwork and barely intelligible rules, which no one who works for CIC (Canada Immigration and Customs) is eager to go on record explaining, confirming or denying. It blessedly doesn’t require a public bedding or stained sheets but more than once, we wondered if the photographic evidence of our union they demanded wasn’t just a thinly veiled request for porn.

I confess that I am still fairly nervous about the border. We’ve never had a problem with a crossing but with the United States ramping up to what amounts to entrance and exit checks and Canada unnerving quiet about what American paranoia it will or won’t enforce, I worry.

Maybe life in Paris or London or Abu Dhabi is just so off the charts unusual in its breadth and scope that Americans need to decompress in groups. Touch familiar bases. Talk about DWTS or Game of Thrones. Plot exit strategies if the GOP theocracy comes to full power in the fall.

Canada is just like home.

Except it’s not.

Rob assured me that living here would be just like living in Iowa.  Rural backwardness and all. Okay, maybe the shopping wasn’t as good. Alright, the shopping part would suck. But otherwise, it would be just the same. And a tad bit colder.

The western prairies are nothing like Iowa, and Canada is not the United States of America or even a wanna-be.

Even five years on, I am still struck near daily by the reality that I am an immigrant in a foreign country. And mostly, I don’t think about having left the U.S. as much as I think about how to get it to quit me. There is so much about being an American that clings like the haze around the perfume counters in department stores. No matter how cleverly you think you’ve avoided the sample girl, the scent follows.

The devil is in the definitions. The United States government sees me as an expat, an American living aboard, but I see myself as an immigrant. Someone who has chosen to leave my old life as an American to build a new life as a Canadian . Could this explain my lack of need to huddle and cuddle with other Americans?

I don’t miss America. Not really. Okay, maybe Target. Sure, they are coming here but won’t be the same. Nothing retail translates well into Canadian.

I miss my friends. Not that they have ever numbered many. I wish I had better access to certain members of my family. I wish I could spend a holiday in my hometown long enough to actually enjoy it rather than cramming reflective moments between taking care of my mother and working around the work schedules of family and friends.

Life has gone on without me. But life has always gone on without me.

Moving from one school to another and made and lost touch with countless co-workers. As I moved from this apartment to another couple to a house and then another, I met and discarded neighbors and city regions. Changing groceries, pharmacists, jogging routes, gyms and coffee shops. Every job or living arrangement entailed a certain amount of readjustments.

I met a husband. Buried a husband. Met another husband. Both came with family, friends, co-workers and accessories unique and not necessarily over-lapping.

Has emigrating been any more or less change than any other change I’ve experienced over the course of my life? Was it more of a growth experience than university? Taking my first teaching job? Marrying. Infertility treatments. Pregnancy. Giving birth. Navigating the underbelly of what passes for the safety net via Social Security and Medicaid. Divesting myself of twenty years, packing everything I still owned in a U-Haul and heading to the Great White North, which has to be a metaphor for the long winters because Canada is not as white as Americans think it is in terms of people, customs, cultures, languages, politics and spiritual diversity.

Every experience that is requires leaving something or someone behind to make room.

And in an age of social media on a planet that is always awake somewhere, leaving is a bit of a first world problem because it is a choice.

Have you left if you’ve only brought only a suitcase while the rest of your stuff waits for you in a storage locker somewhere or your parent’s basement?

Are you living or just visiting when you dine alone? If alone means trolling Facebook and texting with your friends on the other side of an ocean or international border.

What happens to you when you leave the land of your birth? Whatever you want. Intentions and the actions that back them up are what matter. Catching up on the latest gossip from the old country with people who possess a similar vowel inflection? Probably shouldn’t read too much into that. It’s the choice between being a tourist for employment or educational purposes and resolving to put down roots that counts.

What happens when you live as an expat? You eventually become an immigrant and then a citizen, or you go home.

 


Biometric United States passport issued in 2007

Biometric United States passport issued in 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was about the age of my daughter, I saw a television movie called The Man Without a Country with starring the late Cliff Robertson. A deadly dull teleplay in retrospect and I suspect wasn’t incredibly thrilling at the time, but it appealed and appalled my little girl sense of fairness in a way that I can still vividly recall today.

Cribbed from a short story written by Edward Everett Hale, who intended for it to stir patriotic fervor as the Civil War dragged on, it is a tale about a young Army officer, Nolan, caught in the treason trail of Arron Burr and impetuously shouts out at his trial, “Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!”

Maliciously, the sentencing judge grants the young man’s wish and effectively renders him stateless by ordering that he spend the rest of his days as a prisoner on various Navy vessels, forever deprived of his homeland by word or deed.

I remember the last scene of the movie vividly. A young officer finds the dying Nolan in a cabin decked out in United States flags, maps and other symbolism. He grants the old man the dying wish of hearing about “home”.

It was very sad but my ten-year old self as incensed by the cruelty of the sentence. One impetuous outburst during a treason trial that was more of a political witch hunt (though at the time I didn’t know enough about Burr to really understand the politics in play) and this man was banished from his home while people who bore more guilt were not.

I didn’t know the story was a fiction or that the fiction was a propaganda tool to ignite Union sentiment at a time with the United States was more a collection of states than a country. I just know that it wasn’t fair. Regardless of where a person choose to live or the criticism he/she might have for his/her government, depriving someone of the place where they were born as punishment was wrong.

Because I am currently in the process of becoming a Canadian citizen, the idea of “home” is much on my mind. How does one have two homes? When push comes to shove, where lies loyalty?

And then the news of Eduardo Saverin broke via the recent IPO unveiling of Facebook and the fact that Mr. Saverin, as a co-founder, stands to collect billions more in profit. Saverin is a Brasilian who became a U.S. citizen when  as a child – probably through his parents much as Dee will attain Canadian citizenship through my application. With news of the IPO, it came to light that Saverin, who hasn’t lived in the U.S. in several years and who has obtained citizenship in Singapore where he lives, had renounced this U.S. citizenship. For purposes of avoiding taxes was the media assumption though as any ex-pat knows, relinquishing citizenship can carry a hefty exit tax for those whose assets exceed specified amounts.

Given the bitter and unrelentingly negative press about ex-pats (American citizens who live abroad) of late, the outcry in the comment sections of news websites was predictably jingoistic and devoid of much by way of actual facts.

“Love it or leave it!”

“America doesn’t need traitors anyway!”

As if anyone who has ever left the U.S. has only done so because they are dodgers of some sort with a sketchy grasp of loyalty.

Most of what has been written lately about those of us who make our homes outside the United States has been decidedly scathing and rather loose with the interpretations of why some of us seek citizenship in other places, often choose to never return and sometimes relinquish our accident of birth derived American citizenships.

America is and has been mostly always about money and the acquisition of it and the stuff that can accompany having wealth. Being so, it makes sense that those who buy whole-heartedly in the myth of the America Dream would see those of us who leave as being money/stuff traitors. What other reason than wealth would propel us to leave the richest most bestest nation on the planet? Nothing is as important as dinero and toys after all.

It could well be that Saverin was motivated to renounce because the hassle of yet another citizenship obligation – including taxes – got to be a bit much. My personal guess is that someone who has lived in more than one country has a world view that allows him to see that America is not the only desirable place in the world to call home and therefore doesn’t see the loss of legal status as a tragedy. It’s not like he is poor Nolan, stateless and barred from contact or news. I am sure he still has his Facebook account to keep him in touch and if not, there is always Twitter.

I have never been under the illusion that the United States is the only nice place in the world to live. It’s not the only democracy or the only place with indoor plumbing. Though some of those in my native land fervently believe otherwise. Canada is not the armpit of the Americas nor is it some red-haired step-child longing to be like its geographically smaller sibling to the south.

While I admit that those who renounce due to the onerous filing obligations to the IRS have a valid point, I am financially insignificant enough that my husband can still navigate my taxes every year, but that’s not the case for many others. It’s especially onerous, and not fair, to expect dual citizens to file taxes when they owe nothing – as is the case with many dual U.S./Canadians and the expectation that those who are married to non-U.S. citizens hand over their spouses private financial information can’t be considered okay no matter how the U.S. government tries to spin it.

Saverin’s case though prompted an additional slap at ex-pats in the form of a bill introduced by two Democrats called the Ex-Patriot Act, which would de facto label any U.S. citizen who renounces as a tax cheat and bar them from ever stepping foot on American soil again. The IRS will be the final arbitrator as to the whether or not the renunciate has a “good reason” for leaving (apparently marriage, children, having a life will not count) and everyone who lives in another country, whether as a permanent resident or a dual citizen will be treated as some sort of traitor to Uncle Sam. At least that’s my understanding. And given the comments of my fellow Americans, most of completely fine with this idea.

I came to Canadian because the man I loved, and was planning to marry and spend the rest of my life with, is a Canadian. Our life, quite frankly, trumps all other considerations including my birth on Plantation America.

I became a landed immigrant not quite four years ago and am eligible to apply for citizenship now. My reasons for becoming a Canadian came home to my quite clearly during the last provincial election here in Alberta. I want to vote. This is my home and I want to have a say in what happens. In fact, when I read about the special ward election coming up, due to our ward councillor being elected as an MLA, I realized that only my lack of citizenship stood in the way of my running for that office.

Not long after Dee started school, she asked me about a line in the anthem that they sing at the beginning of each new week.

“What does it mean to ‘stand on guard for thee’?”

I have known this was coming for a long time. A day when I felt my loyalty lay more with my adopted country than the one I was born in. It doesn’t pain me to begin to take the steps. It does irritate me that I am wrongly attributed base motivations for doing so. It probably pisses Eduardo Saverin off too, but as I don’t know him anymore than Sen Schumer does, I won’t cast him the villain. Of course, I don’t have a reason for grandstand pandering like Schumer does because I am not a politician. Yet.