Chapter 12 “Parasites in a Host Country”: Migrants, Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Other Zombies in The Walking Dead1

In: The Poetics and Politics of Hospitality in U.S. Literature and Culture

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Abstract

In an interview published by Forbes on December 26, 2016, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and head of Trump’s presidential campaign data management, explained how he used sophisticated computer tools to identify voter blocks by looking at what TV shows they were following. He mentioned specifically that his research had shown, for instance, that The Walking Dead TV series was popular among people worried about immigration, which consequently made them preferred targets for Trump’s frequent anti-immigration rants.

Regardless of whether or not this information had a real impact on the 2016 presidential campaign, what this anecdote revealed is actually a new insight into the interpretation of the figure of the zombie, which has until now been associated mostly with the rebellion of mindless masses. Seen in this new light, the post-apocalyptic America in which The Walking Dead is set is a country under siege by hordes of immigrants whose main and only purpose would be to feed on American flesh. Significantly, the immigrants that in most cases entered the country as guest workers—itself an oxymoron, since a guest that is made to work ceases to be a guest—now slip into the position of parasites. Immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are often envisioned as guests of the host nation-state. The inadequacy of the immigrant as guest metaphor has been explored by Mireille Rosello in Postcolonial Hospitality. Immigrant workers, the critic clarifies, are not to be regarded as guests for they are simply hired (9). Although the concept of the working guest dismantles the image of migration as an uncontrollable tide or invasion at the threshold of the nation-state, the image of the migrant as parasite crystalized in the American imaginary throughout the twentieth century. The discourse of nativism, from Proposition 187 in California to campaign promises in the 2010’s, create the image of the immigrant as parasite sponging off the welfare of the United States. All kinds of social illness, from this perspective, can be attributed to invasive foreign bodies (Inda , 47). J.X Inda, for example, traces how nativist rhetoric transformed the Mexican immigrant in particular into a parasite intruding on the body of the host nation, “drawing nutrients from it, while providing nothing to its survival and even threatening its well-being” (47). The nation-state is thus depicted as a living organism that gracefully and generously allows the entrance of an alien, a zombie, who, in turn, endangers the wellbeing of the host, transformed into an abused and endangered host; or, more precisely, into a hostage. The alien Other, the stranger, the immigrant, Inda states, “are often construed as threats to the integrity of the nation” (, 48).

The few not-yet-transformed inhabitants have to survive in enclosed, walled communities that defend them from the ‘walkers’: Hershel’s farm, the jail, Woodbury, Terminus, Alexandria. As the protagonists migrate from one to the other in their fight for survival, they encounter different groups of humans who either offer hospitality or show aggression: Hershel, Woodbury and the Alexandria community are societies seeking to incorporate and assimilate newcomers; whereas groups like the Terminus community and the ‘Saviors’ either reject or exploit others, zombies, and humans alike.

The aim of this paper is thus to delve into the series’ representation of the diverse, complex attitudes to immigration based on the characters’ readiness to show hospitality to its full consequences, and to establish an association with the US and worldwide immigration policies resulting from these conflicting ways of relating to others.

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