The American Expat in Chiang Mai - Greg who hails from California talks about life in a Thai town. Some very cool pictures.
ExpatAmericans.net - Ken in Mexico has just started this site which is a superb round-up of articles and information from and about American expats all over the world. Ken used to live in France.
Born Again Brazilian - Megan from New York who is now living in Sao Paulo. She has a book out which I am reading and will review. She uses a term I'd never heard before: Exbrat. Definition is here.
The Displaced Nation - This is a site for "international creatives" and is a group effort with bloggers from the US and the UK.
Last month Megan (Born Again Brazilian) gave an interview to Displaced Nation about how she went from being a migrant (albeit one with strong ties to her host country) who was relatively uninterested in local politics, to someone who wants to get involved in the politics of the country where she lives and raises a family. She describes her awakening this way:
Being displaced often makes it easy to be removed from your own surroundings.
Being displaced also makes it easy to be in a bit of denial.
But that Thursday night in mid-June, as my husband and I sat in a bar near our apartment and watched as the streets filled with protesters, my perspective on my adopted country changed.
Not every expat/migrant has that sort of epiphany. Andy Martin of Displaced Nation ran an article after her interview called As an expat, is it my place to join another country's political protest? giving the reason that he too changed his mind and got involved. His reasoning was a bit different but the end result was the same.
All this is very controversial. It's not an easy decision to make and I've struggled with it myself. If you read the comments after Martin's article the answers to his question range from "No, you're a guest and you shouldn't meddle" to "Of course! After all you live here and pay taxes."
I had a couple of visceral reactions to the articles and the comments. At some point in one's migration journey using the word "guest" to describe your status (as one person did) is ridiculous. Someone who is still living in someone's house as a "guest" after 5 or 10 years or so is really pushing the limits of the term. Most of us would consider such a person to be an annoyance and an embarrassment, if not a freeloader. Remember Ben Franklin's words? "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days."
A few more nails in the coffin. A guest generally does not need a bank account or a taxpayer identification number. Guests do not pay rent or own their own home or apartment. Guests do not generally marry into the family. The last time I used "guest" to describe myself many years ago at a dinner party in Paris, they (my French friends) laughed at me. Here I was in my French clothes, among French friends and family, eating French food, drinking French wine, conversing entirely in French and talking about my French job, French family and French neighbors and then calling myself a "guest." They were right to mock me.
The other word that was used, expat, is one I'm ambivalent about. People from developed nations who move to to other countries usually refer to themselves as "expatriates." People from developing nations are called "immigrants." What is the difference here other than the supposed "rank" of the country of origin? This makes me very uncomfortable because it feels like those of us from developed nations are trying to elevate ourselves and put distance between us and those who move from poorer countries in search (many claim) of economic gain. Is that justified? I don't think so. When I came to France I went through exactly the same procedure as any other migrant and integration was a long hard road:
Finding a job was difficult since my French was poor and my credentials frequently misinterpreted. Obtaining my residency card meant going to a clinic that resembled a factory processing cattle for a medical exam - the sheer humiliation of being part of a human assembly line waiting to be x-rayed and being asked very personal questions by the immigration officials. And then there was the sense that my entire world had turned upside down and I could no longer do anything right. Life seemed to be an endless series of encounters where I was corrected or admonished for using the wrong words, not doing the proper thing or simply not understanding fast enough for the people around me.Today I have a carte de resident (residency permit) like all the other legal migrants here. Because I'm not a citizen, there are restrictions on what I can do here just like any other migrant from Algeria or China or Cameroon. And like many others, I have no plans to return to my country of origin any time soon and aspire to citizenship in my host country.
Perhaps one could argue that I came back in 1989 with more human capital than people from developing nation but I would counter that many of my friends from such places have far better educational credentials than me and got better jobs. Yes, many migrants here in France are low-income but that group includes American migrants. I even know migrants from developed countries in Paris who are darn near destitute: homeless, unemployed, on disability, or working low-paying, low-status jobs. "Down and out in Paris and London" happens, folks.
My epiphany was realizing what I was and owning the term "immigrant." It's what I am and there's no hiding it unless I want to practice self-deception for another 20 years. If "immigrant/emigrant" is too hard to swallow, then how about the more neutral "migrant"?
For me, it's about solidarity. For one group of migrants to attempt to claim a higher status and to bow out of the local political arena could be considered not only delusional but an act of aggression against other migrants and the citizens of the host country itself. It is the narcissism of difference. While it is very comfortable to proclaim love and admiration for the host country while retaining the right to criticize it and comment on it as an outsider, this position essentially absolves one from any responsibility for changing it or caring for it too deeply.
I am not arguing here for deep political commitment on the part of migrants. It's a touchy subject and the tolerance for such activity varies with the host country. I myself am unsure when it is appropriate here in France. However, at the very least I think migrants should be supportive of one another regardless of their socioeconomic status and country of origin and at least show some involvement in the making of policy that effects everyone's well-being.
A last word for those who still wish to be "guests". Perhaps they should ask themselves why the citizens and residents of any country would be willing to let them stay without some sort of commitment to the greater good. And that means, mes amis, getting your hands dirty by stacking the dishes, polishing the windows, mowing the lawn and cleaning the rust off the front gate from time to time just like everyone else.