Once an Expat, always an Expat?


I must confess that this Summer, saying goodbye to my family in Mexico was very hard.

Unexpectedly, an immense sadness surpassed me when I said farewell to everyone that last Sunday of July at the end of our long summer vacation.

Throughout these 17 years living outside of Mexico, those farewells were already a normal part of my life and that of my children. Those strong and tight hugs and the uncertainty of not knowing when exactly we will have the opportunity to be together again produced a feeling that I thought I had already mastered.

However, this time it felt different, it felt deeper.

I'm not sure what it was, but what I do know is that this time the word "expatriate" resonated with me in a completely different way.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, Expatriate simply means: “a person who lives in a foreign country” however, for me it has had many different meanings throughout my life and today it shakes me with a new and unexpected one.

When I worked for a multinational company in Mexico, the word expatriate was used to describe that American CEO who earned much more than everyone else and that the company paid not only his salary but also his living expenses and his children's education.

When I was offered the opportunity to move to Texas as an "Expat" from that same company, I thought the idea was wonderful and I signed without hesitation. Mainly because now, besides getting that long-awaited status in the company, I'd also start an incredible adventure by marrying my high school sweetheart.

I can say without fear of being wrong that for my husband and I, those first years of marriage as expatriates were incredibly fun. Two incomes, lots of traveling, and an extraordinary adventure we lived together by gradually discovering our new life in that new city. The beginning of a journey that formed a strong and sturdy foundation in our marriage that we enjoy up to today.

After a couple of years, I decided to stop working to have kids and all I know is that when you are an expatriate and a first-time mom, and you meet another expatriate and first-time mom, that friendship bond is forever.

You share concerns, cultural frustrations and all kinds of experiences that give a new meaning and sense of belonging to the word expatriate by transforming those friends into family and that city into your home, where now a Sunday family gathering takes place with those dear friends.

When my children grew up, the definition of expatriate changed radically. It became the difficult task of educating them by loving the country where they came from, but also respecting and loving that place where they were born.

A complicated task when sometimes you return to the United States after an international trip and the immigration officer tells you "Welcome Home" and other times he bombards you with offensive questions about how long have you lived in the U.S. and why you have two passports.

That expatriate contract that I signed 17 years ago should have included a clause that said: Caution: once you accept your expatriate status, it is inalienable, undeniable and you can never get rid of it, even after returning to your country.

Not even after returning to my country? How? No one ever warned me that visiting my hometown, now as a tourist, would feel so familiar and so strange at the same time.

I could describe it as visiting an old friend after many years of not seeing her and finding her completely transformed after extreme plastic surgery. You recognize her voice and some gestures, but she looks so different, so changed, that it makes you doubt if she’s that longtime friend you longed so much for.

That is why today the word expatriate takes on a new meaning. It goes from a temporary to a permanent status, and that hurts. Will I always feel this way?

I am a citizen of two worlds. I love the city where I live and adore the city in which I was born, but both shake me with a complicated and difficult political climate, where the President of the country in which I live attacks and offends the country in which I was born and the President of the country where I was born impoverishes and paralyzes it.

This summer I had the opportunity to visit the border between Spain and France and it was extraordinary to cross from one country to another without much fuss. Having breakfast in Spain, going to the beach in France, and returning to dine in Spain is an everyday thing for the citizens of those neighboring cities. I would love to be able to see that peaceful and wonderful situation on this continent one day.

I don't know if the definition of expatriate will one day return to its temporary status in me, or if it will change radically again in a way that surprises me like how it did when my children were born, but what I do know is that I would make all those decisions I made up to this day all over again.

Repentance is not a character in this story since I am convinced that I am where I have to be and with who I have to be with. It’s not a matter of identity either, I am, and will always be Mexican.

I feel happy and content with all the experiences I`ve lived and everything I've learned during these years living outside my country and I wouldn't change them for anything.

However, at times, just at times, I wonder what would have been of my life if I hadn’t acquired this permanent expat status.