Am I an expat?
Loaded word, expat. At least for me, as I recently discovered.
One afternoon a few weeks back, an “expat” site expressed interest in my writing. That same afternoon, I lunched with two self-proclaimed expats in Salamanca. I was surprised to find myself cringing on my way to the lunch. The reason? Well, I was meeting "expats" - and preparing to have lunch in English. My lunch companions, who both live in Salamanca, turned out to be lovely women. The newest arrival was dutifully studying Spanish and earnestly trying to meet Salmantinos, although she will likely live here for only one year.
When I returned from lunch, I found an e-mail from the expat site offering to publish some of my blogs, which they described as "Spanish life, seen from the outside." I cringed again: seen from the what?
The description sent me running to a dictionary.
expatriate: noun /ekspatri t/ a person who lives outside their native country.
verb: to leave one's native country to live elsewhere.
Ok, well, yes, that's true.
But look what comes next:
also: to renounce allegiance to one's native country
Well, now wait a minute.....
I moved on to Wikipedia: where things got worse:
The difference between an expatriate and an immigrant is that immigrants (for the most part) commit themselves to becoming a part of their country of residence, whereas expatriates are usually only temporarily placed in the host country and most of the time plan on returning to their home country, so they never adopt the culture in the host country - though some may end up never actually returning, with the distinction then becoming more a matter of their own viewpoint.
I comforted myself with the "most of the time", the "usually" and that warm little "for the most part".
So am I an expat?
I didn't move to Spain to escape from the US.
I didn't move to make a political statement.
I believe I still have a responsibility to vote in the US, and take my share of the heat for our role in the world.
Most importantly, I didn't move to Spain to live on the "outside" of anything. And aside from our shared belly laughs at a gaffed word, a missed r, or a pathetic attempt at a sevillana, my friends and neighbors have never made me feel like an outsider.
So maybe I'm a "less than usual" expat: the kind that shows up "less of the time" and "for the least part". Or maybe I am an immigrant.
I think of myself as a woman living in Spain, amongst the Spanish. As I was a woman living amongst Californians, long after I lived amongst St Louisans and shortly after boldly declaring myself an adopted Chicagoan.
I know that after three years in Salamanca, I feel more like an outsider strolling through LA then I do paseando through Salamanca. It's a funny thing, this "otherness".
Somewhere in all this pondering I joyfully realized that I will be something "other" than usual just about anywhere I go from here on out. I'm excited about that; it'll be my responsibility to make sure my "otherness" is always more of a bridge than a wall.
In the end, I told the site I'd be thrilled if they published my posts.
And I set my mind to thinking less about labels, and more about what to order next time I meet charming people for lunch. In any language.
Labels: an american abroad