Recently I read an article that accused white people living abroad of calling themselves ’expats’ instead of ’immigrants’ and thereby emphasizing their superiority over other ethnic groups living abroad (“Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants?“ by Mawuna Remarque Koutonin, 2015).
This issue has been on my mind for years, ever since a British co-worker in the UK complained to me about immigrants. I was very confused about that and asked him what he thought I was if not an immigrant. He told me that with me, things would be ’different’. Different how? I never quite understood.
I was an immigrant in the UK, and now I’m an immigrant in Japan. Both times I left the country I was born in to live and work in a foreign country. Living in Japan leaves me wondering about a lot of things on a daily basis:
I wonder what the woman in the store just said to me.
I wonder where on earth this supermarket is hiding the jam.
I wonder what the letter I got in the mail is about.
I wonder if the doctor I’m about to see is just going to roll their eyes.
I wonder if I belong.
I wonder if people actually want me here.
I wonder what they are really thinking.
I wonder how many more kids will start crying frantically when they see my Western face.
I wonder if I’m living the life I’m supposed to be living.
I wonder why I chose this life over just staying where things were ’simple’.
I wonder if the sporadic highs justify the many lows.
I wonder if my work contract and visa will be extended or if I’ll be asked to leave.
I wonder where I’d go next.
The colour of my skin doesn’t prevent me from all these questions and doubts. It doesn’t make me different from anyone else living abroad. On the contrary: It makes me feel connected. Connected to this group of brave and yes, let’s be honest, a tad insane people who leave behind familiarity in search of something new, whatever that may be.
I am an immigrant.