Confessions of an Un-Intentional Expatriate
Technically, an expatriate renounces allegiance to their birth country, but it also includes those who voluntarily seek — whether temporarily or permanently — residence in a place different from where they were born and raised. In my case, I was born in Chicago, raised in Chicago and moved to Indiana for University. During my college years I resided in Ecuador and the Dominican Republic with a few honorable mentions in Costa Rica and El Salvador.
Although I’m not overly patriotic, I respect my country and I acknowledge that every single nation has its good and its bad. It wasn’t until I began to travel that I was able to step back and view my country more objectively. I grew to appreciate certain things and question others. I was not your average child, so I respect the fact that choosing to live abroad isn’t for everyone. I was reading about class warfare by age 12 and Emerson by 13. I, to the pure amusement of my parents, declared a life of asceticism before high school (that didn’t last as long as I’d planned.) I grew up in a multi-cultural home, and environment. I was taught that being a “world citizen” was not a dream, but a responsibility.
When I moved to Spain, it was supposed to be temporary. I planned to finish my master’s degree and return home and get on my grind. Around 5 months before graduation, I started having anxiety and nightmares about moving back to Chicago. I was terrified that I would jump on this wheel and be destined to run in circles until retirement. I know, it seems dramatic, but travel is fundamental to my happiness. I called my family and told them that I couldn’t move home. I think my exact words were: The idea of moving to Chicago, paying an insane amount of money for a one-bedroom apartment filled with Ikea furniture, scheduling time with friends and family and working a 9-5 makes me feel dizzy. I don’t judge those who choose this path, but it’s not in my heart.
I come from a small family, and I’m an only child. I was taught growing up that the love you have for your family is not dependent on state lines or country codes: you carry it with you wherever you go. This fact makes my travels that much easier, I don’t feel like I’m abandoning my family, because I take them with me everywhere. All of those factors combined with the fact that I had no genuine ties to Chicago or America contributed to making me an un-intentional expatriate.
What I mean to say is that I like America, but it’s not as if I feel 100 percent comfortable, welcome and safe there. There is still a bit of skepticism and distance I feel in relation to my government, my governor, my mayor, and even the police at times. I don’t always see that the interests of the people are the top priority and that concerns me. Topics like red-lining, blatant gentrification, school shootings, police brutality and conceal and carry make me feel unsafe at home. I have a hard time accepting the controversial immigration policies, educational disparity, (lack of realistic) maternity leave, the predominance of fast food and obesity, and food deserts in predominantly minority communities. Also, the demonization and criminalization of the black male, and lack of affordable health care all bounce in my head, and for many of these reasons I’ve opted to stay in a place where I feel like a person. Not a statistic, a quota, a stereotype, a token or a dark face in a crowd.
Spain isn’t perfect; however, when I reflect on my definition of basic human rights, I’m more than satisfied with my choice to live here. I was born in Chicago because that’s where my family ended up when they migrated from Louisiana during the Great Migration. I’m grateful for the opportunities afforded to me because of my birthplace and my passport and I acknowledge my privilege as a college-educated daughter of college-educated, professional parents. I’m not, in any sense of the word, asking for a do-over. I didn’t “break-up” with the United States of America, so I don’t consider myself an “ex” anything. I don’t consider myself an expatriate, because it implies that I was a patriot to begin with. I wasn’t. I can love America from afar, pay my taxes, visit and admire — from a distance, and that’s ok. I have a deep respect for my country, and for those reasons, I question, criticize, challenge and analyze. Like with any relationship, it’s important to be reflexive, critical and re-evaluate periodically.
Danni is a Chicago native by birth, resident of Madrid by choice. She likes her avocados big, and her hair even bigger.