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”.

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