In March 2015, the Guardian online re-posted an editorial by Mawuna Remarque Koutonin titled ‘Why are white people expats when the rest of us are migrants?’ The entry prompted a digital storm of nearly 3,000 comments questioning the connotations of race surrounding the term ‘expatriate.’
In the context of Australian literature, ‘expatriate’ is used without complication to refer to authors who choose to live overseas. A search of the AustLit database identifies 370 expatriate writers; the first three listed are Peter Carey, Peter Porter, and Clive James—all of whom are white. Do we assume that Australian expatriate writers are born in Australia, grow up Australian, speaking and writing English before leaving to live and write overseas? If so, does this mean that a migrant to Australia cannot also become an Australian expatriate writer?
Born in Chile, Silvia Cuevas-Morales lived in Australia for 24 years before deciding to move to Spain. In Australia, her poetry was published in English in literary journals. She also wrote in Spanish and in the 1990s she was editor of several bilingual collections of Hispanic–Australian poetry. Since leaving Australia, she has published seven volumes of poetry. Although Cuevas-Morales became an Australian citizen at age 21, she does not appear in AustLit as an ‘expatriate’ author. Is it because of her place of birth? If so, why is British-born author Tobsha Learner—who lived in Australia from age 19 to 35, and who now lives in the USA—identified as an expatriate? Is the discrepancy because of race? Or is it culture and language?
This essay argues that expanding the category of ‘expatriate’ to include Cuevas-Morales and others can significantly broaden our understanding of the transnational cultural production to which Australians from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds contribute.