Thursday, 17 July 2008

Since When is Immigrant a Dirty Word?

Do you notice that the only time you hear the word immigrant is when it is preceeded by illegal? If you are a legal immigrant, you tend to call yourself an expat. Is it trendy, more professional sounding, or simply more PC. Or are we attempting to separate ourself from what we would consider a lower class of 'global movers'? Our parents or grandparents who moved overseas for a better life were immigrants, and they suffered some of the same hardships we do in acclimating to new cultures. Did they also face a greater amount of discrimiation, and today, are certain immigrants still facing more discrimination than others? Who do you refer to as an immigrant, and who do you call an expat? Food for thought...


Chris in Happy Valley said...

Interesting post, while in Britain I thought of myself as an expat because I always knew it was temporary. Now,that I've permanently settled here, I consider myself to be an immigrant and very similar to my great-grandparents who came to North America for a better life, I came to Oz for a better life. I still call myself an expat, though,

steveg said...

I think the previous comment by Chris hits the nail on the head - and immigrant is planning to be in the country permenantly and an expat is there for an unspecified period, but always at some point plans to return back to their native country.

Taking note of this, my wife Paula is an expat, even though she has been in the UK for 9 years and is now a dual national with a full Britsh passport! When we eventually retire to the USA as a couple I will then become an immigrant as opposed to an Expat. (though I'll likely call myself both at one time or another!) :-)

One thing always irks me about this though, and that is the number of people who misuse the words immigrant and emmigrate when writing on the subject on the net; but then I'm just a grumpy old man! :-)


Suzer said...

Improper grammar always annoys me too Steve, so I wouldn't think of yourself as a grumpy old man.

The definition of expatriate is actually:

"An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing or legal residence. The word comes from the Latin ex (out of) and patria (country, fatherland)."

And the definition of immigrant:

"a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence"

So while expatriate encompasses both temporary and permanent 're-location', immigrant refers only to permanent migration. They are very much the same in definition, however we obviously view them differently.

Danielle said...

I tend to not use either of those words to describe myself. The word expat, to me, connotates a severing of ties with one's home country.
3. to withdraw (oneself) from allegiance to one's country.
4. to become an expatriate: He expatriated from his homeland.
5. expatriated; exiled.

I used to refer to myself as an expat when I was 16-19 living in Europe, but that was because of my feelings about the war that my dad was currently "fighting" in Iraq. Now that I'm feeling a bit more friendly towards my home country (not about the war, just in general), I choose not to use the word expat. When asked "what I am" I choose simply, "American" or perhaps, global citizen, as some have called me, or even Third Culture Kid. (“A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture.")
As for the word immigrant, though it is an etymologically correct was to describe my status, I find it simply old fashioned.

Alaskan Dave Down Under said...

I've never even thought about this... And, truth be told, I've never been referred to as either and I've never referred to myself as either.

Been down here 8 years now, so I'm pretty settled in. Since I don't sound local, I still get folks asking where I'm from. The simple answer of Alaska pretty much means I'm fair dinkum to them. For some reason Aussies and Alaskans get on fine; perhaps a frontier mentality?