I have always called myself an immigrant. For some reason being an “immigrant” in my eyes had a lot more depth then being an “expat”. Moving to another country as an “expat” felt like a less temporary decision and therefore, a lighter one. Being an “immigrant” gave me the right to carry my suitcase full of sorrows but also provided me a hint of extra courage. By being an “immigrant” I could identify with those first arrivals, coming off boats after days of travelling, carrying all their belongings and looking for a better future. The fact that I arrived with a backpack and after a 24 hours plane journey had little impact on the romantic view I had of myself.
When I started my support group on Meet Up I thought about what term to use: expat or immigrant. I finally decided to use “expat” for a purely “commercial” reason: I wanted to target people who did carry their sorrows but … in a luxury case! Expats who, potentially, could pay for my services as a counsellor. Unlike immigrants who possibly were struggling to make ends meet.
I admit I felt uneasy about my choice of word. In a way I felt I betrayed what I believed and created a group for people I did not relate too, people I could not identify with. I spent some time pondering on this issue and I decided that “labels” were never a good thing. It was best to leave it and take it for what it was, a meaningless word. In fact I thought of bringing the subject up with the group and use it as a topic to discuss in the future.
Then today this article comes up on my Facebook page and it forces me to look at that uneasy feel again and reflect on the fact that sometimes “labels” carry a lot more meaning that we give them credit for. More food for thought.