Welcome to Perspectives, a blog of thoughts, commentary and observations ranging from autistic adolescents to intimate portraits of urban communities.


Friday’s Question

Here’s today’s question: What's an expat? No, not Vince Wolfork, who signed yesterday with the Houston Texans after being cut by New England. He’s an ex-Patriot. The other kind, the expatriates who live abroad.

I ask because I read two columns this week that raised the question – one in the edgily leftist SiliconAfrica.com and reprinted in The Guardian; the other in the somewhat stodgier Wall Street Journal. Both came to the same conclusion: “Expat is a term reserved exclusively for western white people going to work abroad,” writes Mawuna Remarque Koutonin in SiliconAfrica, echoing Christopher DeWolf in the WSJ, “Anyone with roots in a Western country is considered an expat.”

I suspect I’m not alone in admitting I’d never thought of this distinction before. The Oxford Dictionary defines an expat as, simply, “a person who lives in a foreign country;” Wikipedia as “a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of their citizenship.” Yet, for all the words we use in America – “immigrant,” “migrant,” "refugee," “illegal alien” (the old term for southeastern Pennsylvania’s mushroom workers) – I’ve never heard “expat.” It’s hard to imagine the 4 million Irish who disembarked on our shores in the 19th century or the Africans who arrived in the holds of ships or today's Latinos being called expats.

Yet, the Journal has a section called “Expat”, a “hub for expatriates and global nomads – spanning the globe in expat hotspots like London, Paris, Hong Kong, Beijing, Sydney and many more."

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Divide and Rule