The United States is a country with a checkered past with regards to immigration. From Columbus’s treatment of Native Americans to the border wall, this country has both been attacked by migrants and then attacked migrants. The world currently lives in a refugee crisis, where people seeking a peaceful place to live away from the persecution of their own countries have fled to parts of the world that don’t want them. In Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, this is taken to a new extreme when magical doors appear around the globe that transport migrants away from their home countries. This allows the migration process to speed up rapidly, and simultaneously the discrimination against them to rise.
Why does this discrimination exist? Why have immigrants turned themselves into natives, and now discriminate against others who are trying to do what they once did? It boils down to a few things: nativism and “the other”. In Exit West, this appears when some of the Londoners protest the influx of migrants in Chapter 7. This is an example of nativism, and its existence in the United States is oddly paradoxical. Since it is a nation made of mostly immigrants, how can nativism exist? Wouldn’t the nativism necessarily persecute those who are promoting it the most?
The idea of “the other” is also prevalent in both Exit West and the current refugee crisis. In the novel, the London government plans to set up a “halo city” for the migrants. By separating the migrants from “regular” Londoners, they inherently “otherize” them. “The other” also embodies why the nativist mob exists in the first place: they are fearful of the changing landscape of their city and what the migrants might bring with them (culture, violence…), resulting in acts of violence.
Nativism and “the other” are powerful forces acting on everybody. People are fearful of that which is different, so violence occurs. The solution is to find, through conversation, that the two sides are, in reality, not all that different.