Exit west: is anyone really a native?

Exit west, by Moshin Hamid, is a book that depicts the world turning almost upside down, with national borders almost dissolving. Another thing that exit west turns upside down is the subconscious colonial assumptions that we have. One of the ways that Hamid subverts the colonial system is by referring to the white people of England as the “natives”. This simple word choice almost messes with one’s head as we are so accustomed to hearing about natives in reference to the less developed continents that European empires exploited. For white people it is almost a new experience to consider the ‘natives’ as being white. Hamid comments upon this: “And yet it was not quite true to say that there were almost no natives, nativeness being a relative matter” (197). Hamid then goes on to argue that the paler skinned Americans owe their nativeness to their several generations of living in “a thin strip of land between the pacific ocean and the Atlantic ocean” (198).

Yet realistically that makes them far less native than the ones who were there before European contact, but even among those peoples there are groups that arrived long before others.

Is anyone truly native?

Throughout chapters seven through nine Hamid depicts the tensions between the migrants and the natives of London. The natives of London today would be characterized by Norse and Norman genetics, Normans being Norse people who mixed with French. However these groups also displaced the Anglo-Saxons that were there before them. But these Anglo-Saxons arrived from Denmark and Germany to displace Roman groups which in turn supplanted Celtic and Pict societies. Even that natives aren’t native.

Does native as a term even mean anything? Humans are always on the move and always have been. If you look farther than all humans are “natives” to Africa or the Middle East, but we rarely think of things that way. The distinctions that humans create serve to organize their own interests. People could be natives when they want to protect their land yet toss aside the term when they want to take others’.

What do you consider yourself a native to, and why?

Cultural Assimilation in the Face of Migration

Through the relationship between Nadia and Saeed, Mohsin Hamid makes an intentional choice to explore 2 different kinds of migrants. In the discussion of migration in the novel Exit West, Hamid does an exceptional job of highlighting the personal stories of migrants and much less the physical journey of moving from one place to another. As their journey progresses, Nadia and Saeed begin to grow apart and this can be attributed to their starking differences in assimilation. Both Nadia and Saeed begin to resent each other for the way each other has begun to settle in their new lives residing in London.

Although assimilation is more related to immigrants, who move to one place with the intention of staying permanently, Nadia and Saeed find themselves settled in London long enough to get somewhat comfortable. In Exit West, Hamid directly states that migration inevitably changes those that are migrating and that our surroundings have a powerful impact in shaping who we are.

Every time a couple moves they begin, if their attention is still drawn to one another, to see each other differently, for personalities are not a single immutable color, like white or blue, but rather illuminated screens, and the shades we reflect depend much on what is around us. So it was with Saeed and Nadia, who found themselves changed in each other’s eyes in this new place.

Hamid, 2017, p.186

Both Nadia and Saeed acquire labor-intensive jobs because that is what is essentially provided to them as migrants. They live together and waver from parting ways due to a sense of security and comfort. Even though it seems like they’re living the same lives and living it together by sharing the struggles of being a migrant, this is a fallacy. Nadia finds it hard to identify with Saeed because he consistently clings to the people and culture of their birth country. Saeed can’t understand Nadia because she still wears her black robes, yet she doesn’t pray and avoids everything that connects her back to their birth country.

In the midst of Nadia and Saeed’s conundrum, the reader gets a glimpse of two different reactions to assimilating and adapting to a change of environment. Nadia embraces the change by using it as a way to reinvent a new life, while Saeed embraces it by recognizing that he can still make connections to home wherever he is. In life, immigrants and migrants battle what it means to assimilate and how much they will allow themselves to assimilate. A common fear is the fear of being stripped of one’s original culture. If you were forced to move from your homeland the way Saeed and Nadia were, whose style would you follow more and why?