Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Clark Kent Is Not An Immigrant

I’m an immigrant. I’m not what you think of when you think of an immigrant – I migrated from one first-world English-speaking country to a different first-world English-speaking country – but I’m an immigrant. I have had the immigrant experience, and I I’ve never been comfortable the idea that Clark Kent represents that. Here’s why:

Most of the inherent problems of being an immigrant stem from culture and language and being away from your home. Clark, however, was adopted as a baby. In several continuities, he didn’t even figure out he was different until young adulthood; he didn’t grow up painfully aware of the differences between him and the people around him. He was raised in Kansas. by Kansans (I thought I’d made that word up, but my spell check is allowing it!) – none of his experience is directly because he’s an immigrant. It’s a very shallow, surface-level view that says it is: ‘he’s from somewhere else, therefore he represents immigrants’ – I disagree.

The immigrant experience as it does not pertain to Clark Kent:

Immigrants tend to look different to the people around them; that can be alienating and even bring about racism. I don’t have this experience – but neither does Clark Kent. His looks fit in with the people around him.

(I’d also posit that the people who treat you differently based on physical characteristics will do that whether you’re an immigrant or twentieth-generation; even if you’re first-nation and they’re not. So that isn’t exactly part of the ‘immigrant experience’. I’m sure being an actual immigrant doesn’t help with all that, though.)

Having a weird, unpronounceable foreign name, like, uh…



No. Nobody who grew up in Kansas with the name ‘Clark Kent’ had to repeat it five times every time he introduced himself before the other person pronounced it right.. He never had to consider changing it just to fit in.

Here are things that being an immigrant means to me, but not to Clark:

You try showing an accent visually!

Having a weird accent (and being made fun of for it). Clark was raised in Kansas by Kansans. He’d have a normal accent for his region – and in all vocal media I’m familiar with, he does. (Ironically, most of the people I grew up with were also immigrants.)

Contrariwise, and more positively – he never once heard a Kryptonian accent and thought ‘that sounds like home!’.

Rural life in Kansas. Kind of.

Cultural differences / culture shock. Clark was never part of Kryptonian culture. He wasn’t raised with Kryptonian culture. Most versions of him had never even heard of Krypton until he was a young adult; he grew up with Kansan culture, the same as the people around him.

Combining the two above, I still to this day use American-only words. Part of that is growing up with American pop culture and an American family outside of America – American, British, Australian; it all sounds normal to me. I’ve been here 48 years, and I’m sure I still do it. I was last corrected about three years ago.

Clark has never had that problem in his life. He grew up entirely with Kansas words, culture, and accent.

Most people talk about their family reunions (usually over Christmas or, in your country, Thanksgiving); they talk about their grandparents being a huge part of their lives. How many people do I know who say their cousin is their best friend?

I don’t really have an extended family. I mean, I do, they exist, I’ve even met most of them – but they’re on the other side of the planet. (My uncle is visiting my parents at the moment, but that’s very, very rare.)

We would also have accepted Smallville.

Actually, I think Clark has this – but not because he’s an immigrant; I’m not the hugest Superman scholar, there are going to be better Kalologists than me on this very site, but apart from one series about the Kents’ ancestors, I can’t think of any Earth family he has. BUT, for him, that’s because the Kents don’t have a lot of extended family (that I know of), and if they did, they’d probably live near-ish to them. At least on the same continent. I don’t even know why he doesn’t have an extended family, but I’m going to suggest it’s because the writers just haven’t explored that angle.

The only cousin of his that I can think of came from his birth-world to his new world. That’s kind of the opposite of all this.

This is the closest I can think of to him sharing my immigrant experience. and he came at it from a different angle to me.

I have no home. I have too much of my birth-country – the culture I was raised with – to feel truly at home in my adopted country; and too much of my adopted country to feel truly at home in my birth country. So I never quite fit in anywhere; I’m an outsider, a stranger.

Uh, no, not Albert Camus’ The Stranger

(Though I get a ‘homey’ feeling when I hear an American accent.)

Having grown up entirely immersed in Kansan culture, Clark would be at home in Kansas. The culture in Jonathan and Martha’s house matched the culture in Clark’s school. It matched the culture of Smallville.

There is one thing most people point to when talking about Clark representing the immigrant experience:

He’s set apart from the people around him. And that’s true – he is. But he’s set apart by his powers, not by where he’s from. On that level, Id’ say he’s a better, if reversed, representative of disability than immigration. (In some versions, he didn’t even get his powers until adulthood. He grew up being just like the people around him.)

If you want to talk about how he represents adopted people, that’s another story – but it’s not the same as representing ‘the immigrant experience’. I’ve got a close friend who was adopted; maybe I could ask him about that.

Anyway, all this is not to tear Clark Kent down, or say there’s anything wrong with the character; I’m not insulted by the suggestion that he represents my experience. I just think that one particular aspect of his character is… exaggerated.


  1. Excellent analysis.
    He’s also not an illegal immigrant which I see brought up sometimes. According to “The Law and Superheroes” Golden Age version was a foundling so presumptively American; the post-Crisis version was legally born on American soil. So only the Silver Age version, who knew he wasn’t born here, would have an issue (some related discussion here: https://lawandthemultiverse.com/2010/12/22/superheros-and-immigration-status/)
    Silver Age Clark did have an uncle, Kendall Kent, a wealthy guy who proposed adopting Clark away from brother Jonathan; neither Ma and Pa Kent nor Clark were down with this, of course. But it’s a dynamic that wouldn’t have changed if Clark had been a human.
    Clark’s experience as an adoptee would be very different from most adoptees now, simply because open adoption wasn’t a thing back then. Lana and (I believe) Pete knew, but nobody else in Smallville — the Kents living out on a farm rather than in town helped with that.

    1. Le Messor

      I’ve never seen the ‘illegal immigrant’ thing before – but I do remember Mork once getting worried that he had to declare himself an alien, without papers. (His girlfriend got around it by getting him to tell Immigration where he was from.)

      I wonder why he has so few human relatives?

      In one version (Byrne’s?), the Kents found him while they were snowbound for months – and convinced everybody he was their natural child.

  2. That was Byrne.
    Yes, an expanded family might have been interesting to play with.
    I’ve seen that Mork and Mindy episode and it’s fun (but man, Williams’ cocaine use is way more obvious than when I saw the show as a teen). IIRC Uncle Martin on My Favorite Martian pulled a similar trick once.

    1. Le Messor

      I thought it was him.

      I haven’t see Mork And Mindy since I was a kid, but for some reason that scene stuck with me. 🙂

      (Same with My Favorite Martian, but I don’t remember that episode.)

  3. I totally agree that it’s wrongheaded to try to make Clark Kent an exemplar of “the immigrant experience.” The only interpretation more wrongheaded is the constant effort to stylize him as a Christ analogue. He’s not Jesus, he’s Moses. He’s a guy who was raised thinking his background was one thing, and then suddenly discovers that he’s actually something entirely different and he’s heir to something pretty much the opposite of what he thought it was, and his embrace of this new legacy changes not only his own life, but the world around him. He’s the baby cast adrift and rescued, and everything he does is filtered through that lens of having to rethink everything about himself.

    It baffles me that so many writers want to glom onto a trite theme like “he’s an immigrant” or “he’s Jesus,” when (a) the facts of the story don’t support either metaphor, and (b) the actual story is far richer and more multilayered than that.

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