Though arriving in Ajijic to live just a day shy of a year ago – yet a very satisfied residente permanente – I serve as the secretary on a grassroots committee here at Lakeside, comprised of both Mexicans and foreign-born members.
While taking Spanish lessons through the Lake Chapala Society, I am still far from proficient in Spanish, but owing to the assistance of my bilingual, Caribbean-born spouse I am able to get by reporting out in both languages. In this context, it is a curious thing to me just how to refer to those of us folk not native to Mexico on the committee.
I came to Mexico thinking of myself as just another “expat,” but have recently grown uncomfortable to think of myself as such. When the term “gringo” came up in an early meeting of the group (which at the time was perfectly fine by me), one of the foreign-born members quickly objected to what he considered a derisive term. I think I am more sympathetic to his feelings now. My wife prefers the term immigrant and I think I will adopt this for us foreign-born folk. (Of course, I am referring to those people who have decided to live here year-round, and not part-timers.) A friend of mine, also a permanent resident from the United States, likes to refer to himself as a “permanente,” which I think is also a good choice.
When I typed “Why are some foreigners called expats, and others immigrants?” into my Google search engine, an article from The Guardian topped the list of responses. Titled, “Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants,” the article underscored my discomfort with being referred to as an expat. If you care to see what the writer reasoned you can easily find the article. For those disinclined to do this research you may be interested to know that the writer, an African born professional, quoted at some length from The Wall Street Journal. Here’s an excerpt: “Some arrivals are described as expats; others as immigrants; and some simply as migrants. It depends on social class, country of origin and economic status …”
The gist of the term expat is essentially that only white people get to be referred to as such, as if by virtue of the color of our skin we are somehow a superior (i.e., non-immigrant) class of people. I am simply done with that form of racism, benign as being referred to as an expat may seem. For the record, by birth, I am as “WASPY” as one can be and have come to understand in recent years just what the privileges of being born white (not to mention male) have been for me. And like many of a more liberal persuasion, I detest the policies toward immigrants by the current administration in Washington D.C. As such I am more than happy to align myself with immigrants everywhere and gladly bear this moniker while living here in Mexico.
Tim Boeve, Ajijic