Living in Nepantla

This post is from a Facebook discussion started by EOW co-organizer Dawn Comer, a writer based in Defiance, Ohio, and recipient of the Paul Somers Prize for Creative Prose (2008 & 2009). The essay referenced is titled “now let us shift . . . the path of conocimiento . . . inner works, public acts”. Your replies are most welcome!

Anzaldua’s essay from the collection This Bridge We Call Home is the touchstone for Embodying Our Words, and a good place to start thinking and talking and writing about what it means to embody our words as individuals and as a larger community. So I’ll take a stab at it 🙂

For me, I keep coming back to Anzaldua’s notion of nepantla:

We stand at a major threshold in the extension of consciousness, caught in the remolinos (vortices) of systemic change across all fields of knowledge. The binaries of colored/white, female/male, mind/body are collapsing. Living in nepantla, the overlapping space between different perceptions and belief systems, you are aware of the changeability of racial, gender, sexual, and other categories rending the conventional labellings obsolete. Though these markings are outworn and inaccurate, those in power continue using them to single out and negate those who are ‘different’ because of color, language, notions of reality, or other diversity. You know that the new paradigm must come from outside as well as within the system.

“Nepantla” gives me a word for something I have long known to be true, that there are not enough labels or categories in the world to contain even one person. I have found that in my creative and personal life, in my spirituality, in my relationships, and very specifically in my role as a mother to a child on the autism spectrum (for which there are an overwhelming abundance of labels and categories), any time I try to explain myself or others to myself using conventional binaries or categories, things fall apart. I lose sight of persons and begin artificially boxing myself or others into labels that don’t fit, that don’t flex, that inevitably must be torn down again. But how to use language, how to use even the vocabulary people use to explain themselves and each other, in a way that can be understood as a starting point and then moved beyond? This is what drives me.

Conocimiento, being the way that “questions conventional knowledge’s current categories, classifications, and contents” is becoming that for me, and it always and forever comes back to stories. Stories don’t classify–they just are. Sharing our stories–both telling and listening–with honesty, boldness, and compassion in a spirit of hospitality (but always with the awareness and caution that even our stories can trick us, that our ego is always with us) opens us up to ourselves, each other, and the world as we change (ourselves, each other, the world) from the inside.

“Nepantla,” writes Anzuldua, “is the site of transformation, the place where different perspectives come into conflict and where you question the basic ideas, tenets, and identities inherited from your family, your education, and your different cultures. Nepantla is the zone between changes where you struggle to find equilibrium between the outer expression of change and your inner relationship to it.”

How do we live in that space when we find ourselves there? How do we write/create from it? How can we foster a way of writing that values and welcomes the richness of nepantla on an ongoing basis?

Pursuing these questions is for me an ongoing process more important than any fixed (and therefore false) answer.

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