Expat or Immigrant?

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By Mary Rebecca Read-Wahidi
Becky is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology and will graduate just as soon as she finishes writing her dissertation on the Virgin of Guadalupe. She joined the Department of Religious Studies as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Fall of 2012, and was immediately enamored by the charming atmosphere, lofty office space, and pencils with “religion in culture” printed on them.

One thing I have gained from my experience as a GTA in Religious Studies is a more sharply-honed critical eye for labels, categories, and the act of “naming”. Now, as I write the final chapters of my dissertation, I find myself revisiting categories of “immigration”.
Back when I was writing my master’s thesis, I wrestled with the difference between migrants and immigrants. How should I refer to those people central to my study who are of Hispanic origin and are residing in Mississippi and working in the poultry industry? My understanding is that migrants are specifically driven by work, tend to be mobile, and don’t plant their roots, while immigrants come with the intent to stay and establish a new life. Sounds simple enough, but both of these scenarios exist in my research community to varying degrees. In the end, I settled on what seemed like the politically-correct compromise of “im/migrant”, an awkward term that I do not care to use for my dissertation. Continue reading