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We are all migrants through time.
We are all migrants through time.
This quotation describes the thoughts of the old woman in Palo Alto in Chapter 10. As someone who has spent her entire life living in the same house in the same city, the old woman serves as an interesting counterpoint to Nadia and Saeed, who have had to move multiple times in a short time to reach safety and stability. Nevertheless, the woman still feels that she is a migrant. While she stays still, Palo Alto changes around her. The priorities she grows up with don't match those of her children, as evidenced by their desire for her to sell her house for a considerable profit and her disinterest in the money. Even seeing her mixed-race granddaughter makes her feel that the world is a different place, presumably because interracial marriages were less common when she was younger. By portraying aging, an immutable fact of human life, as a form of migration, Hamid universalizes the sense of change, displacement, loss, and adventure that Nadia and Saeed go through.
The old woman’s sense of time travel also harkens back to other aging characters. Most notably, the San Diego veteran experiences a sense of loss when he realizes he no longer belongs with the young officers who once would have been his peers. Instead of making him feel old, he describes the moment where the young officer rebuffs him as infantilizing, which implies that the sensation is a new experience. Just as children need to learn how to interact with the world around them, the veteran must relearn how to relate to the world as an old man. This sense of loss and panic differs greatly from the old woman’s relatively peaceful and philosophical attitude toward the changing world around her. Her willingness to embrace what she likes about modernity and reject what she doesn’t creates peace, whereas the old man’s desire to cling to his former life makes the transition more difficult. The comparison between someone with a sense of adventure with someone who focuses on their losses evokes the contrast between Nadia and Saeed’s different approaches to migration. Just as migrants through space transition differently, so too do migrants through time.