Monday, December 17, 2012

Expat vs. Immigrant

So, I recently stumbled across a blog called “Requires Only That You Hate” (, which as far as I can tell focuses on the “-isms” to be found in Sci-Fi/Fantasy books/novels: racism, sexism, etc.

I’ve only read one article so far, but I’m really digging it and I’m going to “follow” the blog and spend the next few days reading through the archives.

As I was reading the comments on the most recent post I came across the following in reference to one commenter saying that a specific (apparently white) author was an immigrant:

Now now, we all know that if it’s a white westerner they are an expat. That unsavory label “immigrant” is reserved only for those of color and Eastern Europeans.

This got me thinking about my own status and how I refer to myself. Having been born and raised in the US, I’m obviously a westerner – though I’m certainly not white – but both of my parents were born and raised in Kenya and came to the US as immigrants. (Well, technically they came as students and ended up staying and getting green cards, but to people who fight and argue against immigration, that’s just splitting hairs.)

Because I’m a writer (and our imaginations tend to be the biggest parts of ourselves) I’ve always had this romanticized idea of “going abroad” to “find myself” and to form/bond with an “artists’ community”.

Basically, I wanted to go to France (preferably in the mid-to-late 60’s) drink a lot of good wine, smoke cheap cigarettes and hang out with a bunch of cool poets, writers, painters and musicians.

Central to this little fantasy was the idea of being an “expat”: a cynical, *misunderstood* soul, so jaded and turned off by the capitalistic ideas and ideals of mainstream American society that I’d have to flee to more welcoming shores.

Of course, the fantasy was (and is) exactly that, but it did color how I perceived my most recent journey. I came back to Kenya mostly to spend time with my mother, but it has become an amazing opportunity to focus on my writing.

The first thing I did was set up this blog, and I needed a title for it that
was both catchy yet true. That was how I came up with “chatty expat”. It never occurred to me that, as my parents were, I too might actually be an immigrant. Granted, I have family here (lots of family!) and, since both my parents are from here, it’s been relatively easy for me to gain citizenship (significantly easier than it was for some family members to become US citizens), but by what right do I claim the title of expatriate?

I actually have a “foreigner certificate” (the Kenyan version of a US green card – though mine expired a month before it was issued…which is a whole other blog post in itself), so in the eyes of the government – at least the immigration section – I am, at the moment, a (somewhat) ‘legal alien’: an immigrant.

Yet, coming back to Kenya has been more about coming “home” than anything else. Though I don’t speak any of the languages – except for English – and I’m pretty much out of the loop as far as national and local politics and events (though, to be fair, I was the same in the states), and I’ve yet to find a source of income, this is still my home. At least, in familial terms. Can one really be an expat if one is returning to one’s roots?

And, to be honest, I’m still pretty much an American. I keep similar hours to those I kept in the states. I haven’t really been trying to learn Swahili. I get irritated by petty things that are just facts of life out here, i.e. the power outages that occur with an unfortunate frequency…And I really miss my friends in the states.

Then again, I am excited to be here and glad that I came…

Maybe I should change the subtitle of my blog to “The Inner-monologue of an Indecisive Immigrant”.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fifty Shades of Jungle Fever - no, seriously, that's the title...

So, my review of Fifty Shades of Jungle Fever is up and ready to be read at the awesome Jennifer Armintrout's "Sweaters for Days..." blog.

Check it out, yo!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Still working out my feelings over NaNoWriMo, now that it's over...

I'm glad I did it and stoked to have a piece that's 50,000 words long...

..but I don't think I was too happy with the way the event was structured and I'm prolly not going to do it again...

At any rate, here's something totally different. It's a very short piece I wrote for a local writing contest. The story (like the contest) is called "Outside Looking In" and deals with the relationship between a diaspora kid and his native-born father.


Ondieki sighed, leaned back in his seat and looked out the window. Glancing at the terminal, he wondered when they would be taking off. He hadn’t planned on leaving so soon; he’d only arrived two days ago.

As always, his father had been overjoyed to see him, but it wasn’t long before the usual subject resurfaced. A tear-filled, “Oh mtoto, you have come home to your baba! You must tell me of your journeys”, shortly became a stern, “When are you going to stop playing around and build your house? An old man deserves grandchildren. My friends wonder why there are no little ones, clambering over each other to see their sokoro.  At heart we are simple villagers; we must follow our traditions.”

Simple villagers. That was his father’s favorite refrain. So much so, that it became the crux of his slogan when he ran for Parliament; he was not a typical politician, he was but a simple villager, steeped in the traditions of the people. Ondieki had found it inspiring when he was younger, but now it just grated. His father was far from a simple villager. One of the best educated of his generation, having attended schools in both the US and the UK, he’d spent decades in politics, working for the betterment of his country. “Get your education and then go home and help your people.” Those were the words his father lived by.

Ondieki felt very much the same, actually, but his notion of kinship went beyond genetics and geography; his ‘people’ encompassed the world. Ironically, it was the lessons he’d learned from his father that led him to found an international rights organization. Be it fighting for girls’ education in Afghanistan, campaigning for gay rights in Uganda, or even doing relief work for the homeless in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy, his organization was dedicated to working with others to provide the help they needed.

Though his work had garnered much recognition – earning the gratitude of strangers and the respect of enemies – his father refused to see it. For him it always came back to familial duty. The world would save itself; Ondieki had his own obligations. He was supposed to come home to help his people. Maybe his baba was just a simple villager.  

He sighed again and returned his focus to the terminal. Was his father there, like a simple villager yearning for his child, filled with regret and searching the small windows to find the son he had pushed away? He was surprised at how badly he wished it were so. As he turned from the window and closed the blind, the plane turned from the terminal and headed towards the runway.