a difference in priorities

April 16, 2010 § 3 Comments

ive been thinking a lot about a description of me that prof susurro wrote: black immigrant

when i first read that, i thought, huh, what an odd description.  and then i thought, huh, why do i think its odd?

truth is: i dont think of myself as an immigrant. why not?  because…

okay. the kids i know who are from the states refer to themselves as either expat or international.  both words i have used to describe myself and both words i have tried to disavow.

expat.  god.  first the people who are most likely to call themselves this, are the ones i am least likely to want to be associated with. ex pats, seem to find a good chunk of their identity, wedged in the image of themselves as being ‘from’ someplace.  and thus trying with every once of resource they can get their hands on–to re establish where they are from– here. so i can visit some of the american ‘colonies’ and buy familiar brands, eat in familiar chain restaurants, speak english to everyone, etc etc.  its like egypt, cairo, is just this backdrop to their ex pat experience, of living a more luxiurious lifestyle than they could afford in their original home countries.

international.  ok. the thing about the word international is that it brings up a certain image of most people’s heads. and that image aint me.  really. they are white.  euro-descended. some people want to argue that one of the primary markers of ‘international’ is not racial — yeah ok, but listen to a conversation and watch how often ‘international’ is used to denote how someone looks.

‘i saw there were two internationals walking down teh street…’

how do you k now they were internationals?  had you met them?  are there just some people you see who just ‘look’ like an international?

furthermore international is used a lot in third world global solidarity circles to refer to people with white skin.  like–we will use our international privilege and stand in front of this bull dozer.

but, how do the soldiers *know* you are an international?  i mean its not international privilege if the soldiers cant tell that you are an international is it?  do you get international privilege if the soldier doesnt check your passport?  how?

and there are dichotomies that we have to acknowledge as well.  its not just expat.  its expat/native.  international/local.


when aza got kicked out of her school last fall because she was black, or because her mama was black, or some combination, when she got kicked out a few people asked me if i was going to sue the school. or threaten them with a lawyer. or some legal action.

and it had never occurred to me to think in terms of legal actions.  because we have no real civil rights here. not really. we arent citizens.

we are guests.  hosted by the state of egypt.

part of why i love our neighborhood is that it is to a certain extent an african immigrant neighborhood.  as well as a traditional aswani neighborhood.

when people talk about immigrants to egypt.  they arent thinking about someone like me.  but maybe, probably, they are talking about someone who looks more like me.  than when they are talking about internationals and expats.

but you know how inculturated we become.  identifying with the system that de humanizes us?  allowing that system to shield our vision so that we arent able to see what is in front of our eyes?

so blind that it hadnt occurred to me, that an accurate term to describe my experience in egypt might be,  immigrant.

i am not saying that we do not have material resources, that we are not well-educated, that we do not have the us privilege, etc. etc. in comparison with others, namely other folks in abdeen and cairo egypt.  i am saying that while i would think of an egyptian living in the usa to be an immigrant.  it had not occurred to me that an us-er living in egypt could also be an immigrant.

i also am thinking more and more how identities are not only a description of our own histories but also of our value priorities.  that the primary difference between being expat, international, immigrant, and refugee is not only in the background from which one comes but also the priorities one lives out everyday in the place where you are now.


§ 3 Responses to a difference in priorities

  • Raphael says:

    thanks for the interesting blog, its one of my favorites

  • This resonates a lot, and I totally agree with you. It’s a weird space to occupy when you don’t fit into other people’s nice little categories. I wonder, though, if you might speak more to why immigrant doesn’t suit you. Which is not to say that it should. Just that I’m interested to hear more about why it doesn’t.

    • mama says:

      ok. i owe you an article. im there…i just had a few ‘issues’ come up…drama…let it pass…immigrant doesnt suit me b/c…i dont know. b/c i feel like it is presumptuous…u know? actually, the more i think about it…the more that it feels more right than the other labels that i use to define myself….really, its b/c i have a n. american audience primarily still. and i know that immigrant evokes a certain history that i am not speaking of. ive had folks who were immigrants to the usa or their parents were…tell me how privileged i am to travel, when frankly their parents did a really similar thing…so i am struggling w/ it. how do i communicate with my audience…but i think in the next six months my audience’s demographics are going to change significantly…so this is just a transition point for me. tossing off the old and putting in the new…love…

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