Deconstructing the Migration Lexicon
A person who works or lives outside his/her country is an expatriate, or expat for short. Originated from the Latin terms ex (“out of”) and patria (“country, fatherland,” “expatriate” or “expat” is defined regardless of one’s skin color or country of origin. However, “expat” exclusively applies to white people. The migration lexicon readily implies hierarchy and prejudice.
In reality, color draws a line for the usage of the word. Instead of being called “expats,” Africans are immigrants. Arabs are immigrants. Asians are immigrants. Living/working temporarily or permanently outside one’s native country does not determine whether one is labeled as an expat or an immigrant; his/her skin color may contribute to his/her label. This happens everywhere -- in the US, and in Hong Kong, for example. In the US, top African professionals and Asian global developers, to name a few, are not expats like Europeans; they are “highly qualified immigrants.” In Hong Kong, Westerners are considered expats; Filipino domestic helpers are visitors; Mandarin-speaking Chinese are “Mainlanders.”
Taking a closer look, one can discern that race is not the only factor that governs the label of an “expat” or “immigrant.” More precisely, country of origin, social class, or economic status also determines how people who live abroad are regarded. Some people are described as expats, others as immigrants, and some simply as migrants. This supremacist ideology is outdated and unjust. The world needs to be aware of it, and the deconstruction of this worldview must be undertaken.
There were 258 million international migrants in 2017, according to a UN report. The number is growing rapidly, from 173 million in 2000, 222 million in 2010, and 244 million in 2015. It is a growing trend, and living abroad allows a great opportunity for people to become globally competent world citizens. While some of the so called “expats” stay in their privileged living quarters and demand English menus in restaurants wherever they go, they fail to acquire foreign languages, understand different countries’ peoples or cultures.
An expat is someone who moves to another country for work without the intentions of becoming a permanent resident or citizen of the country, and an immigrant is someone who moves to another country with the intention of permanently living there and/or becoming a citizen of that country. Race, income, status, and privilege should not be the indicators for us to judge either term. Most people move overseas in hopes of bettering their lives. When one lives abroad, it is a fabulous opportunity to learn, to adjust, and to be assimilated to a new society. Perhaps keeping an open mind to discover and absorb, is the very first step one can take to deconstruct the migration lexicon. As an expat, immigrant, or migrant, one’s moving and living abroad experience is enhanced when he/she can freely enjoy life and the new community without borders. A globally competent world citizen would embrace this opportunity.