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Food for thought

Interesting reading about terms we use unknowingly sometimes.

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"In the lexicon of human migration there are still hierarchical words, created with the purpose of putting white people above everyone else. One of those remnants is the word “expat”.

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What is an expat? And who is an expat? According to Wikipedia, “an expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (‘out of’) and patria (‘country, fatherland’)”.

Defined that way, you should expect that any person going to work outside of his or her country for a period of time would be an expat, regardless of his skin colour or country. But that is not the case in reality; expat is a term reserved exclusively for western white people going to work abroad.

Africans are immigrants. Arabs are immigrants. Asians are immigrants. However, Europeans are expats because they can’t be at the same level as other ethnicities. They are superior. Immigrants is a term set aside for ‘inferior races’.

Don’t take my word for it. The Wall Street Journal, the leading financial information magazine in the world, has a blog dedicated to the life of expats and recently they featured a story ‘Who is an expat, anyway?’. Here are the main conclusions: “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. It’s strange to hear some people in Hong Kong described as expats, but not others. Anyone with roots in a western country is considered an expat … Filipino domestic helpers are just guests, even if they’ve been here for decades. Mandarin-speaking mainland Chinese are rarely regarded as expats … It’s a double standard woven into official policy.”

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The reality is the same in Africa and Europe. Top African professionals going to work in Europe are not considered expats. They are immigrants. Period. “I work for multinational organisations both in the private and public sectors. And being black or coloured doesn’t gain me the term “expat”. I’m a highly qualified immigrant, as they call me, to be politically correct,” says an African migrant worker.

Most white people deny that they enjoy the privileges of a racist system. And why not? But our responsibility is to point out and to deny them these privileges, directly related to an outdated supremacist ideology. If you see those “expats” in Africa, call them immigrants like everyone else. If that hurts their white superiority, they can jump in the air and stay there. The political deconstruction of this outdated worldview must continue. "

Mawuna Remarque Koutonin is the editor of SiliconAfrica.com, where this blog was first published.

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In Hong Kong, a city where everyone seems to be from somewhere else, just who is an expat, anyway? The question has framed the push and pull I feel between this city, my home of six years, and Canada, my birthplace—a tug perhaps felt no more acutely than when I received a call from the Canadian consulate and told, in Cantonese, that my new passport was ready.

The writer Leo Ou-fan Lee once described Hong Kong as a “city between worlds,” and I have yet to come across a term that better captures the spirit of the place. (Perhaps Mr. Lee’s perceptiveness comes from being an expat thrice over: Born in mainland China, he was raised in Taiwan and educated in the U.S. before settling in Hong Kong.) This is one of the world’s most prominent transnational cities, a place where everyone seems to have their feet in two places at once. It’s a city built by immigrants under colonial British rule, but one that still enjoys a special status within the People’s Republic of China.

So it’s strange to hear some people in Hong Kong described as expats, but not others. Anyone with roots in a Western country is considered an expat. But the distinction is muddied among Hong Kong’s deeply entrenched Southeast Asian community. Filipino domestic helpers are just guests, even if they’ve been here for decades. Mandarin-speaking mainland Chinese are rarely regarded as expats, but they are certainly not locals. By contrast, a native Cantonese speaker earns an automatic right to belong, even if she spent most of her life in Sydney or Vancouver.

It’s a double standard woven into official policy, which doesn’t recognize foreign passports held by those it considers Chinese nationals. The Canadian consulate estimates there are around 300,000 Canadian citizens in this city of 7.5 million, while the Hong Kong government says there are just 16,000. Why the discrepancy? Because most Canadians here are originally from Hong Kong, so they are regarded by the Hong Kong government not as foreigners but as Chinese nationals.

Like other global cities, Hong Kong is a portal of immigrants and emigrants. Chinese people head West to work on Wall Street, while Americans seek business opportunities in China. Some arrivals are described as expats; others as immigrants; and some, simply migrants. It depends on social class, country of origin and economic status. But in most cases, the nomenclature is outdated, rooted in a time when voyages involved a one-way ticket on a steamship.

A more current interpretation of the term “expat” has more to do with privilege. Expats are free to roam between countries and cultures, privileges not afforded to those considered immigrants or migrant workers.

Hong Kong may be a city between worlds, but not everyone enjoys equal passage between them. Even if a foreign domestic helper spends the rest of her life in Hong Kong, she is unlikely to be granted permanent residency.

But Hong Kong will extend all of its rights and protections to me once I’ve lived here for seven years–though I often get the feeling there isn’t much expectation of reciprocity, the way immigrants to the United States are expected to learn English and adopt a certain set of values.

My recent decision to extend my Hong Kong visa, paving a path toward eventual permanent residency, anchors me to a city that itself floats between East and West. Maybe that’s what an expat is today: not a foreigner, not a sojourner, but someone who lives between worlds.

Christopher DeWolf is a Canadian writer and photographer who has lived in Hong Kong since Protected content .

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