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Monday, February 27, 2017

Choose your words wisely...

… or at least correctly. A couple weeks ago I wrote a post titled “In our Nation of Immigrants.” I used the word immigrant because in North America, everyone’s ancestors came here from somewhere else. How long your ancestors have been here might be measured in years or decades or centuries or millennia, but we all originally came from somewhere else, and thus I said immigrant.

That turns out to be an incorrect usage, as immigrant is given a much more narrow definition: an immigrant is someone who comes to live permanently in a foreign country. In that narrower sense, many of us are not immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Some of our ancestors migrated to North American long before there were countries to immigrate to. Some of our ancestors were brought here against their will as slaves; these were forced migrants, not immigrants. A refugee is also a special class of forced migrant. Migrant workers are or are not immigrants depending on who is doing the defining. There could be more categories, but the basic point is that “immigrant” is more complex than my use of the word.

Strictly as a blog post title, “In our Nation of Immigrants” is probably better than the more accurate “In our Nation of Immigrants, Migrants, Forced Migrants, Refugees, and Migrant Workers,” but my intention was to be broadly inclusive, even though I turned out to be misusing the word.

Learning is good. Understanding diverse perspectives is something we’re supposed to be good at here in the liberal arts, but I still need help from time to time. Respectful dialogue across difference is the first step.