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Expats, Immigrants, Refugees and Home

“I think you’re a charming expat,” responded my friend in a text to me. I don’t recall what specifically the communication was about, and her message was intended in a loving, friendly way. But it bothered me. She was the daughter of an immigrant—her parents met when they served in the same Caribbean area mission and earned a green card through marriage. Her mother was a local, and her father an import from Australia. They married and moved to Australia, not unlike how I married my Australian and migrated from the US. In these situations, it is best to contact experienced immigration lawyers who can help you in obtaining for a k-1 visa, help you understand all the legal side of migration, and help you with all the legal formalities.

I met expats when I first came, and probably considered myself one. But it wasn’t long before the differences between expats and immigrants was more divisive than uniting. Expats, in my mind, were temporary. They came most often for work contracts, and were paid well. Many had visas, housing and moving costs all provided by their employers, and while budgeting is a problem for most of us, when their job ended, the company sent them “home,” most often to another work position waiting or created for them. When a job ends for an immigrant, it’s called “unemployment,” and it’s terrifying. Having been educated in another country, lacking “Australian” experience, and an accent combined with competing vernacular gives possible employers enough fodder to make job hunting near impossible.

That’s why being called an expat bothered me. I had lived as an expat with my husband when he took a job in Canada for a time. His visa, stamped and glued inside his passport had the magic of fairy dust. It made me eligible for employment in Canada, unlike so many other migrants who have different visa statuses which can forbid legal employment. His passport made my children eligible to be enrolled at the public school, free from fees. In Australia and other countries, children with anything less than a permanent residency visa have to pay for public school, with costs often as high as or higher than private school fees. His magical visa allowed us to get driver’s licenses, and made us eligible to purchase land which can sometimes be regulated in favour of nationals over non-citizens.

We had been returned to Australia for a year after our time in Canada when my friend said this to me. “Expat.” Such a small word—but a word that did not feel right. It implied that I wasn’t home; that my loyalties might lie elsewhere. And though I do visit the US once every couple of years, I have not lived in the US for virtually my entire adult life. When I go back, it is not the same place I remember. In my hometown, there are new stores that I’ve never heard of. A community theatre I loved as a teen had burned down, and not been repaired or rebuilt. My old primary school has a new second floor, and the high school has been converted into a nursing home. I don’t even know where the new high school is. New owners took over the dance school, and it just didn’t feel the same. A parsonage that a friend lived in with her Lutheran pastor father and family was dilapidated; the church having closed years earlier. This was not my home anymore.

My home is where my heart is—in the arms of my husband, being present in life and all of its flaws. Though is sounds simple, it was a paramount learning; an achievement in philosophical study of home, nationalism, patriotism and love. It was a lesson I learned from a former refugee.

When I first migrated to Australia, I was having a hard time adjusting. I went through a stage where I wept at the smallest things—pickles weren’t dill enough, pizza had egg, the laundry soap made my clothes smell…different, and my American-ness made me a target for jokes and criticism. Such situations can often lead to physical attacks and abuses. So, if you are injured in any way, contact an expert Personal Injury Attorney in Brookhaven to help you out. One afternoon, I convinced myself to get a pedicure from the tiniest of shop fronts in an alley by a train station. It was not high-end by any means. Mall kiosks were larger than this place, the lighting was poor, and the nail polish choices were limited. I mainly wanted my feet massaged anyway, and the minimal cost was almost low enough to be in my budget.

The storekeeper was from Southeast Asia, I’ll call her Bian. Bian’s English was broken, yet simple and easy to understand. She spoke quietly, as if she were a primary teacher inviting the spirit. “What are your struggles today?” she asked, and I readily complained about the difficulty in being an immigrant.

Perhaps it was because I was an immigrant, and perhaps it is because something or someone spiritual prompted her, but she began to share with me her immigration story. She had tried to run away from her country; her family were not the favoured caste and everyday things were difficult, even violent. It was no longer her home; it was a collapsing den. “My parents did not come with me,” she said. “I send for them later after I go to Australia.” Bian saved enough money for passage on an overloaded boat. But it was so overburdened that it broke down and began to sink within moments of the hoped escape. Bian was suddenly in the sea, clambering to make it back to shore. No rescuers came: the adrift passengers were fleeing their government, so the government would happily watch them drown. Still, she survived, swimming and fighting the waves to land.

Wet and breathless, Bian was immediately arrested and imprisoned without felony bail bonds. Luckily, a message quickly made its way to her parents as to where she was. It was just in time. Food was not provided for secessionists, and without a family member to bring her food, she would starve. In prison, her wrists were tired to a rod—it was too low for her to stand, and too high for her to sit. Here she stayed for two years. After parents finally saved enough money to purchase her release from prison. From then, it took another seven years for her to claim asylum and patiently wait in a refugee camp before she gained admittance in Australia.

“Do you think you’ll ever go back?” I asked. I knew better than to use the term home. I could not ask her if she was going home. Home could never be a place where one is tortured.

“No.”

Bian had no migrant’s tears, she even smiled in a way that seems impossible to describe: she was content and resolved. She emanated a peaceful love that I sought to emulate. This beautiful soul endured depravity and humiliation just to get here. And she now called this place home. The place that I had wept over earlier that day because bleu cheese salad dressing wasn’t available. I had not called it home, nor had I thought of it as home. Until that moment.

“Are you going back?” she asked me in her contented voice. I often thought about it, but could I really go…back? Was my home there? In my life, I’ve had dozens of homes: college dormitories, summer camp tents, friend’s couches, and so on. These were places where I felt love. Including when I lived alone—because I felt the love of God. I understood that was one of the things with refugees; when your own country, or the rulers in your place of birth do not love you, then it can’t be home.

“No,” I said, surprising myself. But the truth was, I could never go back. If I did go back to the US, I would be different, and I would see people differently. Home is always changing, because I am changing. I can’t go back to my childhood home; not because it is no longer there, but because I am different. When I progress in love, my love grows- which means my sense of home grows. It was that moment that I understood that I had been so petty about wanting creature comforts that I had stopped trying to love my new home. And because of this, I had stopped progressing.

Bian awoke in me a sense of love that I had not yet understood or experienced. This was her home. She wasn’t born in Australia, but this was one of the first places where she felt love, and the freedom to love. She smiled and worked because she was at home. Finally.

That night, I told my husband about my experience. And with tears in my eyes, I told him I was sorry for being so petty about the little things. And because home is love, he said there was no reason to apologise. But my world had changed. My empathy had grown. And my gratitude for God—for guiding me to Bian, and for guiding Bian home to Australia- became immeasurable.

That day I learned that home is where you feel love. Where one is born means nothing, but where one feels love is home. Expats, immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, dreamers, nationals, locals, generational residents– all of us need the love of feeling at home. And that brings us together– as we read in 4 Nephi 1:17 “neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.” May all of us forget about labelling others based on their places of birth, and welcome everyone who seeks to build a home.

2 thoughts on “Expats, Immigrants, Refugees and Home”

  1. As a sidebar, not as a refuge/immigrant debate, I do have an issue with those who permanently immigrate, are in a privileged position to be able to get citizenship and don’t. I personally know people from other countries who have enjoyed the freedoms and advantages of living here in the United States for 20 or 30 or 40 years without accepting the responsibilities of citizenship – voting; running for public office as examples. Yes – they do meet the residency requirements – but still don’t follow up.
    As an immigrant who did become naturalized, I have followed through with service that was only possible if I was a citizen because I felt an obligation to serve in return for what I was being blessed with in this country.

    Reply
  2. I understand your feelings, SHARON WOOLSTENHULME, but I also think that not choosing to become a citizen is also a manifestation of the freedom allowed in many countries. Remember, the US does not recognize dual citizenship when becoming naturalized. So for example, men are immediately required to register for selective service, which some do not feel comfortable with. The const of university is also significantly less in some countries, so maintaining a citizenship to allow for your children to gain an affordable education also comes in to play. Also those in commonwealth countries can find additional employment and gain shared medical support from fellow commonwealth countries– such as Canada. As the cost of medication and medical help can be significantly more affordable in Canada, some people may not be able to obtain the medical care they need if they were to surrender their citizenship.

    I think it might be better to say that "it's complicated." Nationalism and citizenship are complicated. Very complicated. I do not think the US or US citizenship is bad, or better or anything in-between. But it can be complicated. And it might not fit everyone.

    Thank you for your passionate comment– I know that your service is loved and appreciated.

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