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What I'm Reading

Are Americans ever emigrants or immigrants? As part of my dissertation project, I have been reading about Americans who have opted to leave their home country and make their home abroad.

Phyllis Michaux, the author of The Unknown Ambassadors: A Saga of Citizenship (1996), married a Frenchman after World War II and has lived in France ever since. Michaux founded the Association of American Wives of Europeans (AAWE) in Paris in 1961 "to protect the citizenship rights of Americans married to Europeans and the children of these bicultural and bilingual families." Her book provides interesting glimpses into how Americans view those who leave the U.S., and how Americans who live abroad view themselves and their relationship to the U.S.

What is striking in both perspectives is that an American living abroad is expected to remain just that - an American living abroad. Common American expectations of immigrants moving to the U.S. - abandonment of native languages and assimilation into the "American way of life" - do not apply to Americans when they are immigrants in other countries. Michaux laments that American emigrants are often regarded with mistrust and suspected of disloyalty to their home country. "There is widespread suspicion that Americans who leave the U.S. will no longer think of themselves as Americans," she writes.

Facing suspicions that Americans living abroad are "tax avoiders, living it up in the sunny climes of the Mediterranean or the Caribbean," Michaux is determined to show how she and her country women in the AAWE are, first and foremost, loyal, tax-paying U.S. citizens who want to transmit their citizenship, language, and culture to their children. As Michael Adler, one of the members of the AAWE proclaims: "We or our children are neither immigrants nor refugees. We are Americans..."

The story of the U.S. is said to be that of a "nation of immigrants." Yet the story of Americans who have chosen to emigrate has little, if any, resemblance to this view.

Johanna Leinonen, IHRC Graduate Research Assistant and Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History.