Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Am I An Immigrant?

I decided to pop into the Immigration Museum while I was in Melbourne.

Much like the United States, Australia is a country of immigrants.  With the exception of Aboriginal people, everyone here has ancestors from somewhere else.  Over 9,000,000 people have migrated here throughout the short history of the country.  That’s an incredible number for a country with just over 22,000,000 people.

Even more massive is the percentage of foreign-born residents of Australia.  That figure is 25%, making Australia the country with the second highest percentage of foreign-born people in the world.  The highest percentage is Luxembourg, but it really doesn’t count because it’s surrounded by other countries and all of the foreign-born there probably came a whole five feet from Belgium to settle.  And that whole lack of a border due to being in the EU also helps.  So, really, Australia totally has the highest percentage of legitimate foreign-born.

Take that, Luxembourg.  Pish.

The museum details the lives of immigrants and the waves of immigration from around the world – starting with the British Isles and spreading to other countries as immigration laws started relaxing in the middle of last century.  Indeed, Australia has massive populations of Chinese, Italians, Greeks, Vietnamese, Indians, South Africans, Filipinos, Macedonians, Lebanese, Germans, and more.  And don’t forget the Kiwis!  Those pesky Kiwis…

As I walked around the exhibitions, I began to ponder my own situation.  Am I an immigrant?

I did move here from another country, so I suppose that I’m technically an immigrant, but it just doesn’t sound right.  The word “immigrant” has an image associated with it:  generally a poor person from a poor country who comes to a new, rich country to have new opportunities, more money, and a better life.  Immigrants are poor.  And don’t you have to spend a ridiculously long time on a ship AND contract scurvy in the process to really be considered an immigrant?  My dad’s family came to the United States roughly 400 years ago – a voyage that probably lasted months across the water from England.  And surely there must’ve been scurvy and lots of it.  My mom’s family came from Eastern Europe nearly 100 years ago.  And they probably spent at least a week or two on a ship before landing at Ellis Island – and that’s only after walking roughly 1,200 kilometers from their town in present-day Belarus all the way to Hamburg, Germany.  At night!  WALKING!  Oh, and both sets of my family probably didn’t come with much.  Now those were immigrants.

I, on the other hand, spent 19 hours on two jumbo jets surrounded by on-demand movies and all the cute, gay flight attendants I could stare at.  And I had shit with me – a laptop, camera, two suitcases, lots of pretty Australian money, food, vitamin C, etc.  The closest hardship to scurvy was merely some stale, recycled air.  I was flying through the air over the world’s largest ocean for a few hours rather than sitting on a rat and scurvy infested ship that probably reeked of feces for weeks.

Also, I wasn’t poor.  Immigrants are poor, right?

To answer my question, I headed to the Immigration Bridge the next day with Kei.  The Immigration Bridge details the immigration patterns to and populations in Australia from nearly every country around the world.  Along the bridge, each country has a glass plaque with its name and immigration details etched into it.  Here is the one for the United States:

It’s a bit difficult to read, but a close-up of the etching reveals that there has been a wave of American immigrants to Australia from “1970 to date as professionals and business migrants”.

Holy shit, Paco, that’s me.  I am an immigrant.

When you think about it, I moved to Australia for many similar reasons that many immigrants from third world nations move to the first world.  Those reasons just have a different twist to them.  I may not have been poor or come from a poor country (though, a few more years of the way things are going and Americans may be fleeing to prosperous Mexico for relief), but I did come here knowing that salaries in my field are significantly higher.  Opportunities were a part of it too – especially getting international work experience to further my career.  Politically, I have more rights and protections as a gay person in Australia than I do in the United States, and the quality of life is better here too.  Ok, so the US wasn’t really all that bad, but I do get more vacation time in Australia, work more reasonable hours in Australia, and I’ll be eligible for free healthcare next year.  No more worrying about losing health insurance if I lose my job.  So while the reasons may not be so desperate or so extreme, they do parallel the reasons that many or most other immigrants flee their native lands in search of greener pastures abroad.

But still.  I’m an immigrant.

Fine.  Make that a million… and one.

I feel poorer already.

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