ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Nepantla, a word with Nahuatl roots, was a central concept in Gloria Anzaldúa’s 1987 book “Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.” The concept of nepantla referred to the in-between middle ground created by Mexican Americans on both sides of the border.
Anzaldúa and others later “recognized this middle ground had its own legitimacy,” said Sergio Troncoso, editor of a newly published book that expands on the concept.
The book is “Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican-American Literature on Families In Between Worlds.” Thirty writers, including Troncoso, contributed essays, fiction and poetry to the anthology.
“One way I understood it is living between cultures, languages and experiences,” Troncoso said. “Even if you live in a rural area and move to an urban area, you’re crossing a border. The creation of this hybrid identity is what most of us do, if we move around and if we don’t take where we’re from for granted.”
In his introduction to the anthology, Troncoso gives three reasons for the importance to everyone in the United States of the Mexican Americans’ nepantla experience.
One is the proximity of the U.S. to Mexico and the growing number of Mexican Americans as U.S. citizens.
Second, he writes, is that nepantla reveals “the wounds of our history.
Those wounds are of Mexicans feeling like outsiders in a land that was once theirs and of leaving home for a better place to make into a home, he said.
And thirdly, because nepantla “is also a deeply universal experience.”
To appreciate that universality, Troncoso urges people of any ethnicity to read the book in order to understand the crossing of their own borders.
His essay “Life as Crossing Borders,” is in many ways what the stakes are for all Americans, not just Mexican Americans, “as we navigate our identity as a country. We need to see the ‘other,’ even though they aren’t like us. We need to see the communality.”
Troncoso thinks the central problem is “if we don’t see that communality, (the country) will start to fall apart in dramatic and awful ways.”
He himself had to navigate from his youth in the Ysleta colonia on the eastern edge of El Paso through the cultural shock of being an undergraduate at Harvard University.
Troncoso’s intro and essay together provide a clarifying overview of the book’s subject. An award-winning essayist, novelist and short-story writer, Troncoso is a resident faculty member of the Yale Writers’ Workshop and the president of the Texas Institute of Letters. Among the other contributors to the collection are Tucson, Arizona, fiction writer Matt Mendez; Daniel Chacón, chair of the Bilingual Creative Department at the University of Texas at El Paso; and Sheryl Luna, a poet and essayist who facilitates writing workshops for the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver.
In her searing essay “The Hole in the House,” Luna writes about the traumas and abuses she – and her mother – suffered at home. The essay’s title refers literally and metaphorically to a hole in a wall caused by a drunk driver, a hole that wasn’t fixed even when the mother sold the home.
Mendez’s short story “The Astronaut” has a fantastical and tragic Día de los Muertos aspect. Young Carlos, the main character, races across a rooftop to its edge, leaping into the air. “Never looking down, Carlos focused on the brightest spot in the sky, lifting off higher and higher and toward the light,” the story concludes.
Chacón’s dark, riveting story “Mujeres Matadas” explores through a brave young female guitarist the nightlife of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, a death metal music concert in Juárez and references the Mexican border city’s recent history of violence: More than 370 women and girls were reported killed there between 1993 and 2005.