Heroes & Villains: Immigrants and Expats - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Heroes & Villains: Immigrants and Expats

Heroes & Villains: Immigrants and Expats

Published May 20, 2016

Photos by
InterNations Expat Community

This week’s hero is immigrants. We live with the many benefits of immigrants every single day. They do the jobs no one else wants to do, which more often than not means gruelling physical labour, thankless social welfare posts or, worst of all, food service, and Iceland literally could not function if they picked up and left tomorrow. But apart from the economics, it is a blessing to live in a multicultural society, where you can meet different kinds of people, hear different languages, and learn from experiences and backgrounds vastly different than your own. Dismiss the paranoid hysteria from the far right about the supposed dangers of different cultures living together, especially on this continent—the history of Europe is the history of multiculturalism, and Europe as a whole would be far poorer in every sense if cultures were kept strictly separate from one another. Immigrants work harder, try harder, and make all kinds of crazy sacrifices just so their kids can grow up in a better place. Their crucial yet often overlooked role in Icelandic society is why immigrants are this issue’s Hero of the Issue.

This week’s villain is expats. “But hang on,” you ask, “What’s the difference between an immigrant and an expat?” The answer is nothing. It’s the word itself that’s the villain here, because more often than not, “expat” is a dog whistle for “one of the good kinds,” which is itself a dog whistle for “white.” Expats (or people who call themselves that) do not see themselves as a part of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. And they don’t want to be seen that way, either. Calling yourself or anyone else an “expat” instead of just using “immigrant” is elitist, arguably classist, and reinforces the rhetoric that immigrants are a societal drain; self-described expats tend to be professionals or academics. This word drives yet another wedge into the immigrant community—and we have more than often wedges already. If there were a hospice for words that need to die, expat would be on the next bus out of town. It’s a snooty, meaningless, self-aggrandizing label, and it’s for these reasons that expats are this issue’s Villain of the Issue.


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