“Perspectives From the Cracks”: A Nepantlera on Traveling and Writing

It is hard for me to find any form for this. Whether to start with an anecdote, an iteration of a theory, a feeling, or a description. I don’t know what form to give this desperately necessary expression of how my lived experiences within and in-spite of borders challenge and inspire me as a writer and traveler, of how my living and seeing awaken and deepen my connection to my memories, journeys, and experiences.

A cycle, a passage, a channel that connects my past to my future. The borders that sever the physical and spiritual terrain on which I stand. What should be the length? What should I emphasize? The tone, the intensity? I simply can’t figure it out even as I write. Ambiguity and formlessness, endlessness and fluidity: the only certainties I have of myself not only as a writer but as a person, as a traveler, a border crosser, a nepantlera.

Everything flows and everything is connected, and even as I write, it is impossible to obey the borders and restrictions of prose, of these letters, punctuations, and spaces. My writing itself is nepantla: the borderlands, a passage way between the worlds where I have deeply lost and re-formed myself, my thoughts, desires, and capacities. The places I have been to in my travels and the terrain I know only thanks to the memory of the heart. My body, my love, my mind, and my writing: where I travel, what I see, and what I seek grows from the in-between, it becomes stronger, it extends in this formless, limitless space.

It was a few days I ago that I connected the dots between a theory and my life – which, as a student of Latin American and Latina/o Studies, I did so for four years and very often. Except now, firmly standing in the transbarrio-scape and in the creation and formulation of the poetry of my everyday life does this revelation seems to have much more of an impact on my spirit and life – putting it into practice, into words, into a vision, seems like the appropriate, and desperately necessary thing to do. And it all seems to fall into an unordered, unbounded, unbordered arrangement of letters and embraces.

Gloria Anzaldúa  wrote about the borderlands, the nepantlas it creates, and why and how to inhabit and transcend them. She wrote about nepantla as an in-between cultural space that hurls us into displacement. The in-between space of the peoples connected to – and severed by – multiple communities, opressions, identities, languages, sexualities, belongings, desires, and -scapes.

In the tradition of chicana feminism, nepantla was and is an uneasy but necessary point of departure for a new consciousness – a liminal space of great confusion, anxiety, and loss of control where transformation can occur.

But, as it has been written by Anzaldúa and lived by my self, it is deeply immersed in this state, up to the brim with anxiety and helplessness, overwhelmed by ambiguity and hazed by the opaque hues of the in-between, that we find the opportunity to deepen our comfort with the unfamiliar. To recognize its power is to transform ourselves.

Anzaldúa, in the poetry of her prose and denuncia de sus teorias, explained that nepantleras, as people who experience the nepantla state, serve as agents of awakening who inspire and challenge others to deepen their awareness, desarollar greater conocimiento. In existing and guiding us, escribó Anzaldúa, they serve to remind us to search for wholeness of being.

All of this, which I learned as a student and have lived as a muxer, is not new for me but it recently came up in a conversation with a friend and photographer about our potential creative projects and collaborations. I explained that I wanted to write about transbarrio-scapes, about this borderless, geographical and spiritual terrain I belong to and deeply know- the beauty of public plazas y esquites a la luz del día, the borderless and boundlessness of racial and class and gender violence (it exists here too, we perpetrate it here too), how and why I can enjoy an ice cream cone on my porch in Los Angeles, close my eyes and smell the moisture of the wet dirt roads of Durango, how everything that is severed, is connected, how everything that is severed, is within us. I found myself explaining that I sought to write about, and from within, nepantla.

This realization came thundering down on me as I sat in the middle of the East Los Angeles County Library and it fizzled away among the bilingual book stacks. I have lived in nepantla all of my life but I suddenly and violently awoke to realize it four years ago when I independently returned to Mexico for the first time.  Traveling to Mexico City and returning has meant deep pain. It has challenged every previously formed notion of my identity, personality, purpose, sense of belonging, and dreams. Since then, I have struggled with my own journey with belonging and borders yet I have become more keenly aware about the presence of this tension and struggle on a larger, more collective, more deeply rooted way.

I saw much more clearly the bordered existence of everything – from people’s notions of large and small scale national loyalty and our incapacity to embrace sexual, physical, spiritual and emotional ambiguity and transition, to our obsession to belong even if it means never questioning, even if it means never deciding for ourselves, even if it means destruction.

I write from within the cracks to articulate the nepantlascapes that form my everyday life, the spaces that I navigate everyday. Because, even if it has and may continue to represent pain and displacement, I see it everywhere. It exists and may remain unseen because even our visions, even our words, even our embraces are bordered and taught to only perceive and accept and yearn for worlds that are separate and disarticulated, passing by those that bleed, meld, harmonize, and exist in connection.

I feel inspired to write and express nepantla as a collective and necessary transcendence, encouraging others to see and embrace and grow in their own journeys. I feel compelled to accept these ambiguities, to accept borderlessness, to accept and continue to grow. To defy fragmentation of the spirit and of existence. To love myself within them and despite them.

I write out of nepantla. Searching for and expressing the nepantlascapes that populate the worlds that compose me. Traveling I found nepantla and writing I become nepantlera.

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