International Archives Day: Expats and Democracy

9 June 2015

9th June is International Archives Day. This year’s theme is democracy and rights, chosen by the team behind the #AskArchivists initiative. The Expatriate Archive Centre is fairly young – by archival standards anyway – having been founded in 2008. We can’t show you impressive, calligraphic constitutional documents, so we’ve taken a slightly different approach and looked at how expats deal with politics.­

Expats don’t vote, so the stereotype goes – they live in a bubble, don’t engage in local affairs and slowly lose touch with events in their home countries too. But are these fair assumptions to make?

Well of course as an archive, we are impartial and it’s not our place to say. We’ll leave it up to the researchers who use our source materials. But in the collections of the Expatriate Archive Centre are letters, notes and diary entries from expats showing a keen interest in politics – both local and global. Many of them centre around the theme of security – there are tales of dealing with confusing regulations and bureaucracy, and accounts of evacuations and families facing danger during times of unrest.

Moving abroad can also bring with it a new perspective and an increased awareness of how people from other countries view your own. The following extract is from a letter written by an American lady based in Cameroon, sent to her mother back in the States. It is her response to her mother’s question about the impact of Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy. It was written in 1981, the year after Reagan won the presidential election.


“As far as getting any flack from anyone about American politics & Reagan’s completely naïve approach to foreign policy is concerned, nobody here has bothered much. I think they’re pretty used to American presidents being fools – or perhaps they are wise enough to realise that the attitude of any particular citizen of a country does not necessarily agree or coincide with the attitudes of his country’s leader. A lot of the expatriates here are either American or French. It might be logical to assume that neither group feels it has room to be critical of the others’ leader at this point.”

See the hashtags #IAD15 #democracy on Twitter for more from other archives on this year’s theme. Also check the International Archives Day website for a completely different piece from our collection, and other historical documents from archives worldwide.

Do you have an expat story to tell? The Expatriate Archive Centre collects the life stories of expatriates and repatriates worldwide – no matter what their political views are! Find out more about donating a collection.