Please don’t call me an expat. I’m an immigrant.
Maybe that realization came to me because I grew up with three of four grandparents who emigrated from Europe to the United States in the early 1900s. While one grandmother was born in the U.S., her parents emigrated from Europe. I never heard them talk about being “expats” from their former countries. They never used the word expatriate — or expat. They described themselves as “immigrants.” They were proud of that term.
To them, being an immigrant meant that they not only had moved to, but had adopted a new country as their own. They started a new life in a new situation in a new country. That’s what I’ve done with Ecuador. My wife of 46+ years feels the same way, but I’ll only speak for myself. She is eloquent in her own right.
While I currently maintain U.S. citizenship, I plan on becoming an Ecuadorian citizen after living here the required three years.
I am not living in Ecuador to “test it out,” or to see how it will work out for me. I am in Ecuador for my lifetime. I did not leave the United States to get away from something. I moved to Ecuador to get to something. My wife and I had lived full-time in a motor home in the United States for about four years before deciding to relocate to Cuenca. We traveled to and explored all 48 lower states, visited five provinces of Canada and visited Mexico — albeit only near the U.S. border. We had also had the great fortune to spend some time in Hawaii and Alaska, so we had experienced all 50 states, either for work or for play.
During our lives, we had visited five of the seven continents and several Polynesian islands. While we did not spend extensive time at all of them, we did get a feel for what was available to us. We were ready for a new adventure, and Ecuador was it. We decided to emigrate from the United States and immigrate to Ecuador.
To me, “emigrate” and “immigrate” are terms that denote permanency. That is what my intention is.
When I listen to political news from the United States during this election cycle, I never hear talk about all of the expats from Mexico, Central America or South America living there. I hear about immigrants. There is some evidence that one of the main differences Americans see between expats and immigrants is the color of the skin one has. There are some studies that indicate this is so, and a lot of opinion pieces that suggest that race is moot. It may be an interesting question, but one that isn’t important to me. If it is to you, why not post an article about it? CuencaHighLife.com is always looking for provocative pieces.
For me, what I consider myself to be has less to do with how I look than how I consider my life. If I were to remain an expat, I would believe that I am only a citizen of the United States, living as a citizen of the United States in Ecuador on a temporary basis. I would expect to retain the customs, attitudes, language and relationships I learned and developed in the United States, and eventually return to the United States to live. By that standard, I am not an expat, I am an immigrant.
Because I consider myself an immigrant, I can honor my history as a citizen of the United States while moving forward to develop a life as a citizen of my new country. I don’t have to constantly compare the way things are done here with how they were done in the United States. I can gladly take part in the customs of Ecuador without trying to decide if they are better or worse than the ones I left. I can cheer, without guilt, for the Ecuadorian team when they play the United States.
I am learning to speak the language of Ecuador and the idioms and slang of Cuenca. I remember my grandmother saying to my grandfather, “speak English, you are in America now!” And, my wife and I smile at each other every time one of us says to the other, Habla Español, tú vives en Ecuador ahora. Yes, we are speaking more and more Spanish at home now, but we still resort to English when necessary. By that standard, I am not an expat, I am an immigrant.
I will never be a true Cuencano, but, as I learned from my wife, who, humorously says she was a gringa, but is now a “grin-cana,” I am becoming a “grin-cano.” I am no longer solely a gringo, but am transitioning. By that standard, I am not an expat, I am an immigrant.
During a conversation with an acquaintance here in Cuenca, I realized that I now have more friends who are native Ecuadorians than I have among the expat community in Cuenca. I certainly don’t avoid gringos, but I don’t seek them out, either. I am more comfortable in restaurants, stores and venues that cater to Ecuadorians than in ones that have a clientele that is primarily expat. I learn more about my new life from interacting with Cuencanos than I do from interacting with expats. I prefer to experience the Cuencano life rather than the United States life in Cuenca. By that standard, I am not an expat, I am an immigrant.
None of my grandparents ever went back to “the old country,” even for a visit. That was due primarily to the cost and difficulty of travel in their day. Luckily, I have the ability to make the easy trip from Ecuador to the United States whenever I want. However, after a trip next year to take care of some family and financial matters that can’t be easily handled from here, I have no need to make the trip on a regular basis. I miss many of the family members, friends and acquaintances who still live there, but my life is now in Ecuador. By that standard, I am not an expat, I am an immigrant.
Some of you who have read this far might have some negative feelings about what I am saying. Please understand that I am not judging anyone else’s behavior, attitude or thought patterns. I say, without malice or judgment, and with affection, I don’t care how you want to live your life. That is totally your business! If you prefer to be an expat, be an expat. If you prefer to be an immigrant, be an immigrant. If you don’t want to think about the difference, don’t! What you consider yourself to be really isn’t important to me. I hope you live your life as you want and enjoy the choices you make. My way is not the better way, it is only the better way for me.
Yes, I have immigrated to Ecuador. I have started a new life here, and am truly enjoying the benefits, challenges, and even the liabilities. No one ever said that life is easy. Life is an adventure, and adventures lead somewhere — to somewhere that may be undefined, but one that is exciting!
Please do not call me an expat! I am an immigrant!