Why am I never called an immigrant?
In 2009, my parents and I got in a car. We crossed a border; we followed an opportunity for a better job and a future. We entered a new country, after visa applications and careful planning. There were push and pull factors (my AP Human Geography teacher would be proud).
By all accounts, my parents and I are immigrants. We immigrated to the United States. But somehow, we’re never called that.
Because we crossed the border in the north (from Canada), not the south. Because when we tell people where we’re from originally (it’s Austria, by the way), we’re met with an enthusiastic “I have ancestors from there!” or “My grandma always made the best Schnitzel!” Because we’re white, western Europeans and society has decided that label does not fit us.
Society has decided we’re so-called expats, or expatriates — people who live outside their native country. The term expat, interestingly enough, is a synonym for immigrant but to society, the distinction between the two is important.
Immigrants, or migrants in general for that matter, are people coming from places not considered part of the western world. They move for necessity, they are the subject of impassioned political debate. Immigrants are seen as a “hot-button issue,” something this country should (according to some politicians) be very worried about.
Expats, on the other hand, are welcomed. Never once have I felt as though my country of origin was a topic that was met with anything less than interest or enthusiasm — or a good-natured joke about the Alps and cows. On the contrary, I’ve had Americans tell me about their immigration stories (some from generations past), I’ve been asked repeatedly how I like life here, if I’m settling in.
In short, my immigration has been well-received, met with open arms and open minds. But for so many immigrants to this country, that is not the case.
Why does society have this double-standard? Why is one kind of immigrant seen as a threat, whilst another is lauded for making the move to the “greatest country on earth”? Why do Americans conveniently forget they are a country founded by immigrants when faced with the topic in political discourse?
The founding fathers themselves came to the New World for opportunity, for a new life, to start something special, to develop a democratic government that was unprecedented in its time.
The double standard that exists for immigrants in this country is not often talked about. To do so would be to admit that one type of people moving to the United States are not like the other. To do so would force politicians, lawmakers and voters alike to come to terms with their country’s past, and see that their current actions in the debate about immigration contradict their very roots.
So here’s my point: immigrants come in all shapes and sizes, from all different backgrounds, with unique reasons for making the trek across oceans and borders alike. And like the first immigrants to come to this country, today’s migrants still want to be a part of this unprecedented, special thing that was created in 13 colonies nearly 240 years ago.
Treating one type of immigrants as a problem and another without prejudice is not fair to the history of this country. Politicians need to be focused on creating active solutions to the problem instead of lamenting the fact that the trend of immigration exists. Shouldn’t this country be proud their message of opportunity is still heard and believed so many years later? And try its hardest to accommodate for and embrace that status?
As Alexander Hamilton (a Scottish immigrant from St. Croix) and the Marquis de Lafayette (a Frenchman) proudly say in the musical Hamilton: “Immigrants: we get the job done.” But shouldn’t they, according to society’s current definition of the term, be saying something else?
“Expats: we get the job done,” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.