I like being an immigrant

Brussels Travel Blog

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For a lot of people, "immigrant" is a dirty word. I've had to sit and listen to tirades against immigrants while living in Australia, living in the US and living in Belgium. Each time I respond "I'm an immigrant". There is typically a pause and then clarifications, "oh, but you're not that type of immigrant, I am talking about the Asians / the Hispanics / the Muslims / [insert regional focus of racism here]". I typically present the case for immigration and the data refuting the tirade, but the facts never seem to matter - the anti-immigrant brigade are capable of screeching against immigrants sponging off welfare and stealing their jobs in the same sentence. Deep down, the issue is just that they don't like immigrants.

It is easy to hate immigration - politicians jump on the anti-immigration bandwagon frequently, I'm sure they like having a target that can't vote. Racists and xenophobes obviously hate immigrants, but plenty of decent people are also wary of immigration for a number of reasons. After all, every society has problems, and it is always easier to blame someone else than to blame yourself. And if you are looking for someone to blame, immigrants are easy to spot by virtue of being different, making every negative act disproportionally visible.

Despite all the negative connotations, the hassles and loss of rights, I like being an immigrant. It is a complex phenomenon, but basically I like getting to mix and match my cultural preferences. I have lived with Australian, British and American culture and there are aspects of each that I appreciate and that I want to keep. And now I am living in Belgium, a beautiful mix of Flemish and French culture, in a city which is the quintessential pan-European city while also being one of the most African in Europe. I like Belgium. In fact, I love Belgium and would like to become a citizen (unfortunately I doubt I'll ever be able to pass the Dutch language test). I chose Belgium to live in. I love its culture but I am under no illusion that it is perfect. The nice thing about being an immigrant is that I don't need to emerge myself into the culture, for better and worse. Instead I can live within the Belgian culture to the extent that I want, while drawing on the cultural wealth of my background. I can enjoy the relaxed attitude of Europe on the weekends while using American efficiency in my laboratory. I can appreciate the reserved dignity of the Belgians while being an anti-hierarchical Australian. Being an immigrant lets me live the best of all worlds.
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photo by: Vlindeke