A Migrant By Any Other Name is an Expat

ellis-islandMy family and I are migrants.

More commonly we are referred to as expats. This is despite the fact that upon closer inspection, we actually meet the criteria of migrant workers more closely. Yet expat is how we identify ourselves as well as those we know. I suspect it has a lot to do with the color of our skin, our education levels, and our very bland middle-class-ness.

The fact is, we are foreigners living in a foreign land. Legally we’re allowed to be here until my husband’s contract expires. Prior to June, he and my children would have had EU rights to stay past that time, but well…then Brexit went and happened and overnight my kids lost the right to live, work, and reside in 27 different countries. I’m sure my children’s thank you note for that is in the mail….

For all intents and purposes, we are immigrants. Though it’s likely we’ll return to the United States one day, we have no immediate plans to do so. But because we are white and prosperous we’re generally not considered that kind of immigrant. If we brought up to those in the UK who voted Leave or those in the US who voted Trump that we are the very immigrants they voted against, I suspect many would be horrified.

We are not who they were voting against.

I guess we’re the good kind of immigrant.

I’m not sure why. The jobs my husband gets or any other ‘expat’ gets are jobs that could be given to citizens of whatever country we are in. The job my British husband did in America could have been filled by an American. In fact, from an economic standpoint I would argue that a farm laborer is far more important to the day to day lives of most Americans and Britons.

I would also argue that most won’t see or appreciate that. They only see different. They see other. 

Anti-immigration rhetoric is nothing new. The idea of someone ‘else’ swooping in and taking what, by some imagined right, belongs to you. It’s the same rhetoric that led to the rise of the KKK in the US–spread a few whispers that the big, black man is coming for your pretty white wife. It’s the same rhetoric which led to the rise of Hitler– the Jews are coming for your money. And it’s the same rhetoric that is gaining volume not only in the US, but all over Europe–you would have so much more if it weren’t for the dirty immigrants coming in and taking your jobs.

travel-visa

We are those immigrants coming in to take those jobs. So is the family of every ‘expat’ I know. We can convince ourselves that it is because there isn’t a deep enough pool of local talent, but at the end of the day, that’s all a lot of hooey. Countries could invest in education in order to increase that pool of local talent, but they don’t. It’s easier and more economical in the short-term to hire foreigners.

Farm owners could hire locals to pick and harvest fruit. But they don’t. Because they’d have to pay them higher wages and their profit margins would decrease. Food prices would increase. It’s easier and more economical to hire migrant workers.

No one blames the companies. No one blames the corporations. We blame the folks doing the jobs–but the truth is, some folks shoulder more than their fair share of that blame. Part of it is race, part socio-economic, and a big part is perception.

Why should my white husband be considered an expat and a Romanian care worker in the UK an immigrant? Why is a Mexican laborer called a migrant and an oil executive an expat? I’m guessing that your average British couple who retire to the Algarve to soak up the sun in their golden years don’t refer to themselves as immigrants. Though that’s exactly what they are.

Immigrant is a term reserved for everyone other than us, everyone who may not look like us or act like us or have the same value system or identity.

At the end of the day, if you are working for an Embassy in another country, you are a migrant worker. If you are a CEO of working overseas, you are a migrant worker. If you think your income level, the importance of your job, or color of you skin makes you any different from the Romanian woman caring for your granny, the Polish builder who gives you a better deal on your decorating or the Mexican waitress taking your order, then you are part of the problem.

My family’s migrant journey is approved. We reside here legally by the grace of the Danish government. And the harsh truth is that it is pretty damn easy for us to get that approval. Our multi-layers of privilege makes it easy for us to travel from country to country, job to job. And yet many, many of the folks who are being targeted in the US, in the UK, in Europe are there legally as well.

But because they don’t look like they should be there, they have a bulls-eye on their back.

When my husband first came to the US, he did so on a tourist visa. We followed the rules. He never over stayed his visa, he got a job which offered him a working visa, something that many in the upcoming US administration are against. After we were married in 2001, we were advised by immigration officials not to apply for green card status. Right now he is still entitled to a green-card, but who knows how those regulations will change in the upcoming years? I guess nowadays it’s just your bad luck if you fall in love with someone who doesn’t come from the same country, right?

migrantWho am I kidding? We’re white, and we have money. My husband is the good kind of immigrant. Another layer of privilege.

How we identify ourselves and others plays a major part in our perceptions. Those perceptions inform our decisions, our actions. It’s always harder to look closely at our own reflections than it  is to look at those around us. But when we don’t, we fail, rather spectacularly at times, to recognize that for the most part, there aren’t as many differences as we think.

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Heroes

liberty_waveSometimes the thankful gets buried under an avalanche of the…other stuff. The worries, the concerns, the humdrum, the fury.

Recently, for me, it’s been a lot of fury. Make no mistake, I’m thankful for the fury. It’s protected my heart against the onslaught of grief which is no doubt coming. It acts as a buffer until my spirit is ready to put one foot in front of the other. The rage acts as a middle woman between yesterday and tomorrow.

But fury takes its toll. It sucks you dry like a vampire leaching blood. I’ve been here before. When you eventually come limping into port, spent and sputtering, it is scary as hell. What you need is someone to help guide you in. Someone who will catch your elbow as you stumble ashore. Hero to Leander rowing across a sea of emotion.

 

My husband and I met on Thanksgiving. Over nineteen years the story–our story, our once upon a time–has been honed and polished. We’ve been together long enough that we both tell the same version–the she said and the he said have long since been we said. This year I had planned back to back posts of a very different nature and then life went and threw a monkey wrench into my sea of relative calm and well, here we are. Here I am. Not so silently vibrating with rage. Lightening bolts of fury crackling from my fingertips.

The thing with fury is that you never know when it’s just going to burn itself out. When it’s just going to extinguish and take with it not only the flame but the light you use to guide yourself. It could be five minutes from now. It could be two years. But however long it takes, I know I have a safe haven to land, to dock. It’s the same one I’ve had one for nineteen years. Even when things are going along float-ingly and I’ve no use for it, it’s there.

He’s there.

 

There is a saying I am fond of, one of those slightly cheesy-could-be-on-a-poster-in-a-break-room type quotes:

Fate whispers to the warrior, you cannot withstand the storm.
The warrior whispers back I am the storm.

There is a lot of energy contained in a storm. It can do a lot of damage, but it can also sweep away the detritus, blow away the cobwebs, leave everything around it…different. My husband has, with unfailing consistency, accepted each storm, accepted the damage, accepted the different. Exactly as I have done for him. In a story of Heroes and Leanders, we have played each to the other.**

And for that, today and everyday, I am thankful.

I tease my husband that I am an easy person to be married to. Except for the hard bits. It is not easy being married to someone who is vocal, who is opinionated. I will say passionate, but passion is often bedfellows with lunacy and single-mindedness. Yet not only does my husband carve out a space for me to refuel and sometimes lick my wounds and heal, he is proud of my opinionated, single-minded, passion bordering on lunacy.

And for that too I am thankful.

leightonheroI don’t subscribe to the idea of luck when it comes to love and relationships, though I am partial to a bit of fate all tied up with string. My husband and I chose a course, a series of conscious decisions which led us to one another, which led us exactly here.

So in the history of us, a love story which started over pumpkin pie and has led us all around the world, I am once agin reminded to be thankful. Not only for the ability to feel, and feel well and passionately, but to have a place to dock, night after night. And to offer a place in return.

 

**If you’re not familiar with the story of Hero and Leander, it ends, as with most myths, with death. Leander crashes upon the rocks. A distraught Hero throws herself of the cliff. Rest assured that my infatuation with Greek mythology stops short at the death bits. I’m not that passionate.

 

 

Faux News

If satire is the highest form of wit, well, this is my way of going high. Right now, it’s all I got.

santaReuters: U.S. Constitution Discovered to Contain ‘fine print’. Supreme Court Nominee Rudy Giuliani Tells Reporters He was Able to Uncover the Text With a Decoder Ring from his BooBerry Breakfast Cereal.

People: After Months of Speculation, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin Finally Go Public with Their Relationship. Read ALL the Details of the Couple the Media has Already Dubbed “Prump”. Glad!!

Brietbart: Six Steps to Tame Your Feminist Wife. Take it From Us, These Tricks Will Change Your Life! Hint: You’re Going To Need a Bigger Basement, Chains, and a Padlock!

NY Times: Trump Demands Statue of Liberty Apologize for Welcoming Tired, Poor and Hungry. “Have you seen her? She’s no more than a 3. Sad!”

Country Homes and Garden: Jeff Sessions: Down Home with Alabama’s Favorite Son. We Talk to the AG about His Plans to Overturn the Emancipation Proclamation While Enjoying a Down-Home Barbecue in Beautiful Ante-But-Soon-to-Rise-Again-Bellum Home.

lincoln

Guns and Ammo: Supreme Chancellor Trump Declares Open Season on Sore-Loser Pussy Libtards. No Background Check! No permit! Hunting Season Runs November Through Late January.

Nexus News: Trump to Move 2nd Amendment Up to 1st  Because “I can.”

Elle: Canadian Women Hailed as Heroes for Founding Underground Railroad for American Women Seeking Birth Control.

NPR: The Rise of White Supremacy: Do Endless Headlines, Interviews, and Articles Only Help to Normalize It?

Entertainment Tonight: Listen to Our Exclusive Interview with Twitter Sensation Milos Greeklastnameolis Who Wished a Pox, Rape, and Cancer Upon a Senator’s Family for Wishing him “Happy Holidays”.

preview_newspaperBoston Globe: GOP Scrambling to Spin Trump’s Late Night Twitter Admission: “I thought ‘Hypocrisy’ was just a nickname for a  Hippopotamus named Christina.”

BBC News: Britons Send Congratulations to Americans For Their Stunning Upset at This Year’s Darwin Awards.

Ham Radio Monthly: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot???!!!

Hollywood Reporter: Motion Picture Association President Considering Petition to Include America! in This Year’s Oscar In Memoriam.

 

 

Life is Beautiful

18366733_c86729742cWhile in Prague recently, friends and I toured the Jewish Quarter. We stood among thousands of crooked and wilting headstones dating back to the 15th century. We silently absorbed the names of the 80,000 written in simple script upon wall after wall. Prague Jews who never returned home. We toured the Spanish Synagogue and meandered through a well documented history of Prague Jews.

I grew up Catholic, but twenty years in New York City exposed me to almost as much Jewish culture as the Catholic traditions I grew up with. But more than my exposure and familiarity with Jewish tradition is a human need to be reminded of the atrocities we are capable of inflicting upon one another. It is uncomfortable. As it should be. Confrontation should be uncomfortable, like a tattoo inked upon our conscience.

It should serve as a reminder.

I got mired down in detail, particularly the photographs. Families, yellow stars proclaiming Jude pinned to their lapels, smilingly going about their lives. Getting married, posing for school photos, caught in mid-laugh. There were crayon drawings scribbled by children, kindergarten yellow suns and stick figures, blue skies and cloud. Pictures from the ghetto. A few cases away there were postcards from Terezin, fragile parchment with the tight script of music composed while waiting to be relocated.

Everyday things. Evidence of a human drive to find some sense of normalcy in a world that must have felt anything but.

_74181420_ruth_cechova_memories

Because what do you do? You must live. You must eat. You must work and mother your children, clean your clothes and put bread and meat on the table. You must put on a brave face for your children, make a big deal out of birthdays and holidays. Life is Beautiful.

Until it is not.

In the next case, the decrees. Small things. Inexplicably, the demand that Jews must surrender their ski equipment. If there was a political reasoning behind this, it is lost on me. What screamed out to me from between the lines was this: If you take just a little at a time, no one will put up a fight.

After all, it is relatively easy to live without ski equipment. Next came the gramophones. And little by little, the pleasures of life were stripped away. As if because you worship the same God in a different way you are not eligible for those pleasures. You are not entitled to music or skiing, meat, leisure time or vacations. Money. Property. A beautiful life. And slowly the small things add up to an avalanche. By the time you realize it is too late to dig yourself out. When you are ready to fight, you are already half-suffocated.

You are no longer entitled to life at all, beautiful or not.

Of course these seemingly small insults served another purpose. To dehumanize. After all, it is much easier to watch the neighbor who has ruffled the head of your child be deported is they seem less than you. It is much easier to watch the shopkeeper from whom you have bought oranges or lettuce be led away when he has been stripped of all dignity.

It will be ok. Don’t worry. Nothing is going to happen.

I can already sense the shift, the transition toward settling and normalizing. I see it in the slow claw back to everyday life.

Yet it feels almost dirty to wish friends a Happy Birthday on social media or to use an exclamation point for anything other than rage. It feels awkward and dishonest to like pictures of children and vacation snapshots in the sun.

It feels wrong.

Is there an equivalence between Europe in the 1930s and the United States right now? I hope not. Is there the capacity for it? I have to believe there is. How can you bear witness to the normalcy of evil and not believe it is possible?

For someone who hates to be wrong, I have never hoped to be wrong more than I do right now.

pdk001Where do you find the balance between normalcy and vigilance? How do you continue to live and work, to mother your children, to celebrate holidays, to live–while making sure you stay aware? How do you remind yourself of that tattoo inked upon your conscience?

In this quest to find a life that is beautiful amidst the chaos, while we absorb and process, I implore you to stay vigilant: Not only for horror itself, but for the capacity for it.