Expatriate or Immigrant?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Which one am I?


v. ex·pa·tri·at·ed, ex·pa·tri·at·ing, ex·pa·tri·ates
v. tr.
  1. To send into exile. See Synonyms at banish.
  2. To remove (oneself) from residence in one's native land.
  1. One who has taken up residence in a foreign country.
  2. One who has renounced one's native land.

1768, from Fr. expatrier "banish," from ex- "out of" + patrie "native land," from L. patria "one's native country," from pater (gen. patris) "father." Modern noun sense of "one who moves abroad" is 1818.
  1. A person who leaves one country to settle permanently in another.
  2. A plant or animal that establishes itself in an area where it previously did not exist.
1611, of persons, 1646 of animals, from L. migrationem (nom. migratio), from pp. stem of migrare "to move from one place to another," probably originally *migwros, from PIE *meigw- (cf. Gk. ameibein "to change"), from base *mei- "to change, go, move" (see mutable). Migrate is first attested 1697. That European birds migrate across the seas or to Asia was understood in the Middle Ages, but subsequently forgotten. Dr. Johnson held that swallows slept all winter in the beds of rivers, while the naturalist Morton (1703) stated that they migrated to the moon.

Being an expat means either renouncing allegiance to one's "father"land and/or merely living in another country. The etymology of the word points to banishment from the "father" land. There is a pejorative sense, as if one is being expelled from paradise, or living in continuous want of something that is inate, "father."

Immigration is setting up permanent residence in another country. The etymology would indicate that the sense of the word highlights movement as it's key object. The key idea with immigration from an etymological point of view is movement but the definition pulls us into the idea of residence.

The difference between expat and immigrant is both a question of permanence and romanticism. If one chooses to live in another country, but, with the knowledge that it is a temporary arrangement (whether the person moves back in five years or fifty), one could be called an expat. If one considers their move to be rife with nostalgia, one could be called an expat. Immigration entails a certain positive aspect regarding integration, assimilation and pragmatism.

I am neither. I neither wish to be considered as someone who will one day go back and live in Canada, nor do I wish to be the person who says she will live in France indefinitely. I reject the limitations of both points of view. At this moment, I live in France, but who knows what and where and how? But, while I love the idea of Canada, have not renounced citizenship, and even mentioned in an earlier post about it being my homeland, it is ironically not a place I am considering returning to. It could happen, but right now, it's definitely not in the books.

You know, the same thing happened to my parents. They moved to Canada, moved back to Singapore, and consequently moved back to Canada. They felt more affinity with their "immigrant" country than in Singapore, itself a country of immigration. If they chose finally to put down roots it was because of us, the children. Gosh... another reason not to have children. Must roll like a dustdevil on the plain before some critters jump on my back.

Don't get me wrong. I know I'm not normal. I just wanted to say that I feel more out of place being with expats than I do with the French or non-English Europeans. I don't feel that sharing nostalgia is enough basis for a friendship. I'm just getting on with the business of living.