Expats, Immigrants, or Neither?

A TYT Opinion

By Stewart Mandy

MÉRIDA, YUCATÁN – A recent article in UK newspaper The Guardian has the Twittersphere ablaze. Headlined “Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants?” it fails to answer its own question, instead quoting faintly racist stereotypes to back up the author’s belief that Europeans and “western white people” (a somewhat curious and inflammatory definition in itself, at least to me) living in other countries are expats, while everyone else living away from their home country is an immigrant.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines an expat (expatriate) as “A person who lives outside their native country” and an immigrant as “A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.”


It seems to me that it is a question of perception, and how we choose to define the words, and, indeed define ourselves. All though my life, I have considered an ‘expat’ to be someone living and working in a country other than his/her country of birth/citizenship, usually on a temporary (although maybe long term) basis, generally employed in a position arranged before arrival in the foreign country, often by an international company. I always considered an ‘immigrant’ to be someone who moves to another country on a permanent basis, often (but not always) for economic reasons, who goes through the process of becoming a permanent resident or citizen of that country. On reflection today, I find these definitions increasingly irrelevant.


Historically, the ‘tired, poor, huddled masses’ clearly fell into the ‘immigrant’ category, despite the fact that they were overwhelmingly European; of course in 1883 the ‘expat’ concept was yet to be invented. More recently, especially in the countries where the ‘western white people’ originate, the term ‘immigrant’ has taken on a much more negative connotation, often used to imply someone from a poor country moving to a rich one (perhaps illegally) to take advantage of social benefits, and frequently used in a derogatory fashion.

The world

Here in Mérida, we have a large number of foreigners resident in the city, referred to by many as ‘the expat community’. This group is indeed largely comprised of “western white people”; in this case primarily (although not exclusively) from the USA; some are here short term, some long, and some with the intention to remain permanently in México. I myself am a member of this demographic, i.e. a “western white person” residing in Mérida.  I don’t consider myself an ‘expat’ or an ‘immigrant’ though by my own definition; however don’t mind if others wish to use those terms to describe me.


México is my home, yet I wasn’t born here. I don’t feel the need to label myself with terms I consider outdated, or to define my place of residence according to arbitrary lines drawn on maps centuries ago by warlords and meddling colonial masters. I’m sure I could feel equally at home in Paraguay or Botswana as I do in México if I so chose; the color of my passport and the accident of my birth on a particular piece of land are irrelevant. Nationality becomes a state of mind; as does one’s status as an ‘expat’, an ‘immigrant’, or, as in my case, neither. I am someone who lives in México.


Who (or what) are you?


You can read the “Guardian” article here.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


Questions or comments? Join the discussion below, or send an email to stewart@theyucatantimes.com

Stewart Mandy

Stewart Mandy thumbnail


Born in Europe, raised in the Middle East, and a long-time resident in the Americas, Stewart has been based in Mérida, Yucatan since 2010, and has lived and worked worldwide in the media, travel, tourism and transportation industries for well over 20 years. His local contacts and global knowledge provide him with unmatched access to the stories ‘behind the stories’ and he likes to take you to the places that others don’t or won’t go. From the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego, from Moscow to Melbourne, from Bergen to Buenos Aires, Stewart has been there. Chances are, wherever you are heading, he knows the score.


In addition to The Yucatan Times, Stewart contributes (or has contributed) to “The Examiner” (www.examiner.com), “Business Briefings”, “Cruise & Ferry Magazine” and “The Apollo Magazine”. He is a former editor of “rolling pin CRUISE” magazine.

He can be contacted by email at stewart@theyucatantimes.com or smandy@gmail.com. You can join him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/meridawriter, follow him on Twitter @stewartmandy or visit his website at www.stewartmandy.com or his blog at http://tolocsandaluxes.blogspot.mx/