How do you describe someone who has left one kind of population for another when there are no international borders crossed? How do you name and categorize that movement?
This question and predicament always reminds me of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. In it Anse Bundren describes knowing that God didn’t intend for men to move because he made them “up-and-downways.”
The Lord put roads for travelling: why He laid them down flat on the earth. When He aims for something to be always a-moving, He makes it longways, like a road or a horse or a wagon, but when He aims for something to stay put, He makes it up-and-down ways, like a tree or a man… Because if He’d a aimed for a man to be always a-moving and going somewheres else, wouldn’t He a put him longways on his belly, like a snake? It stands to reason He would.Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, 1930
Obviously, the logic is a bit faulty, but thinking about how and why people move is still an important question. And so is what we call that movement. I started using out-migrant because (1) I had seen it used in other scholarly research and (2) it describes a person’s leaving one place for another that doesn’t involve the specificity of national borders. What isn’t present in the term is any kind of cataloging of the reasons why someone might leave and/or the multitude of feelings they might have about it.
The poem below is my way of thinking through that.
You didn’t cross a national border An invisible line rendered visible By war and flags that carved up the land. The line you crossed is still invisible Missing from research And only demarcated in public imagination By Andy and Opie and Aunt B Through Green Acres And the appeal of a Duck Dynasty Out is the focus of this migration Because what you’re running from Is more noteworthy than where You’re supposed to be running to. Mostly because it's undesirable. I’ve gotta get outta this god-forsaken town Rolls easily, almost naturally, off your tongue. Success is only promised Only possible If you leave. And so we do. In droves. To new and shiny places That feel claustrophobic where Buildingsaretooclose and there Isn’t enough green space. Where time moves too fast And people (mis)understand your language And take you for simple and ignorant and Racist and homophobic and misogynist and Conservative. Even if you’re not. Even if you are. So you learn to act different To be different You bury your language And talk about your home in the Disparaging ways that come so easy Desecrating the roots of a family Your ancestors worked so hard To grow. Until you realize that who you are And who you’re from Is worth Sustaining You tend your culture like a garden Pruning problematic branches To preserve and sustain the blossoms That are fruit of generational labor. You realize that just as much as you wanted out You want to go back in You want to Return But the home you left moved on Just like you did And now you both are forever in a state of In-between