The Language of Immigration, Continued

Last night, Iain and I were talking about yesterday's thread on immigration, and how he isn't called (or regarded as) an immigrant, when he made this well-observed point: "Oof coourse I'm noot an immigrant," he said wryly, with one raised brow. "I'm an ex-pat."

Such a spot-on observation. In between the disparate uses and meanings of "immigrant" and "ex-pat" (expatriate) falls everything that underlines the racism, classism, and xenophobia of the immigration debate in America.

White, (relatively) wealthy, and English-speaking immigrants are ex-pats, with intramural rugby leagues and dues-drawing pub clubs and summer festivals set to the distant trill of bagpipes.

Non-white, poor, and non-natively English-speaking immigrants are just immigrants.

Ex-pats are presumed to have come to America after a revelation that their countries, in which any white person would be happy to live, are nonetheless not as good as America.

Immigrants are presumed to have come to America because their countries are shit-holes.

Ex-pats are romantic and adventurous, with wonderful accents and charming slang.

Immigrants are dirty and desperate, with the nefarious intent of getting their stupid language on all our signs.

An American who marries an ex-pat marries up; an American who marries an immigrant marries down. (Which is why noses wrinkle when I say I'm married to an immigrant, as if immigrant is a slur and I'm insulting Iain—and selling myself short.)

And on and on and on the wedge narratives go, creating an artificial distinction where none should be, further demonizing the people who aren't the undeserved heirs to the high-falutin' alternative to the perfectly practical immigrant.

I am married to a man who is regarded as an ex-pat, I have friends who are regarded as ex-pats, and I have worked at an ESL school in Chicago for adult legal immigrants, where the students are about 90% Latin@—and every last one of them are regarded as immigrants.

And you don't need me to tell you that the differences in how they are regarded has nothing to do with anything inherent in any one of them, and everything to do with the operative prejudices in the country they've all chosen as their home. They're all immigrants, but ex-patriotism is a privilege, conferred by pale skin and the dumb luck of having been born in an English-speaking country.

Which means the most progressive thing any ex-pat can do is reject the label altogether, and proudly be an immigrant.

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