A few days ago, an article in The Guardian started making the rounds on Facebook. The article, “Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants“, maybe written as a reactive piece to a post on the Wall Street Journal on who an expat is anyway, has sparked a lot of debate on the internerd. It’s not something I’ve given much thought on as a non-white person living and working abroad. In all honestly, I consider myself to be an expat even though I am not white. It never occurred to me that I might be labeled as an immigrant.
But this article got me thinking. Yes, I do consider myself to be an expat currently, and even when I lived in London, I thought of myself as an expat. When I lived in NYC, I didn’t consider myself to be an expat or an immigrant, even though I was not American. I was just there, living and working like any of my friends. Perhaps in NYC, the majority of my friends were American, so there was no need to label anyone per se. Do we really even need labels?
I guess we do? Is it just a way for us to feel better about ourselves, a way to provide ourselves with a form of identity so we can belong to a group? I guess I am lucky. I am lucky to have had the privilege to roam this world as I see fit. I am lucky to have had a good educational background that enabled me to get a well paying job , which in turn allowed me to move to London just because I felt like it. And on to Singapore. Yes, I am lucky. But my race or ethnicity was never something I focused on. And I don’t think my peers have focused on that either. Although here, people do initially assume I’m a local but then will put me in the “expat” category. I think, anyway!
On further reflection, the one place where I do label myself as an immigrant, if you will, is in Brazil. Or when I refer to myself as a Brazilian and then having to explain to people why I am from there. Yes, I am Brazilian because my great grandparents immigrated there from Japan, to work on the coffee plantations. I am a watered down immigrant, maybe? But do I feel like an immigrant when I go back to Brazil? I can’t say, to be honest, as I haven’t spent the majority of my time living there, so I wonder how my family sees themselves as?
As for myself, admittedly I do see the Indian/Bangladeshi construction workers as immigrants, same for the Indonesian/Filipino maids. However, that is not to say I don’t work with those nationalities in my industry and I definitely wouldn’t consider them as an immigrant, but as an expat. I guess I’ve lumped people into the expat/immigrant category based on what one does for a living. Sorry!
And for my friends who aren’t white and living in the country where you’re not from, how do you view yourself?
*Please note this is not meant to be an exhaustive research piece, these are just my views and opinions based on MY experiences.