WHAT DOES NEPANTLA MEAN?
Nepantla is a Nahuatl word that's been translated as “between,” “betweenness,” and “tierra entre medio.” Nepantla conjures ideas of blending, mixing, and being of two cultures. It suggests a process of weaving two into one. In the natural sense, it suggests union, transformation, and the energetic connection of everything in the cosmos.
Many of us can thank Gloria Anzaldúa for bringing the concept of nepantla into our consciousness and vocabulary. Largely because of her work, we now often see the word used in relation to the experience of living in, among, or between two or more cultures or experiences—and acknowledging the transformative work and power of that space.
It was through Anzaldúa’s writings that I first learned of this special word, nepantla. It helped me label feelings I had sensed since I was a young child. For as long as I could remember, I felt that being of two spaces, of two worlds at once, was part of what made me who I am: one foot in one world, one foot in another. In my youth (also the days of hyphens), the worlds were “Mexican” and “American.” Protestant and Catholic. Brown and güera. Later, as one of the first in my family to go to college and the first to move away for further education and jobs, the worlds were West Coast and East Coast, “working class” and “ivory tower.” North and South. Eastern philosophies and Western ideologies. Theism and animism.
It wasn’t that I claimed all of these spaces directly, but I understood the inherent power of having experienced them. I knew how to code switch. Having one foot in one world and one in another gave me the ability to both empathize and critique in ways I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. I could “see” in ways that others—whether my family of origin or my ever-ivory-tower colleagues—couldn’t. My nepantla helped me value the nepantla of others, including my two-spirit and neurodiverse friends. Nepantla can be painful, but it is also a superpower. Nepantla—in whatever ways you experience it—is your superpower.
My appreciation of this special word, nepantla, deepened when I learned more about its original meaning in Nahuatl. James Maffie, scholar and author of Aztec Philosophy, explains that nepantla is a “root metaphor” in the metaphysics or cosmovision of the Aztec/Nahua people. It is one of the expressions of teotl (the “ultimate reality”), characterized by the merging, blending, churning, weaving of two into a new whole. Nothing is static. Transformation itself is reality. As Chicueyi Coatl points out in this issue, the Nahuatl meaning of nepantla reminds us that everything is related—and constantly merging, growing, evolving into a new whole.
In this issue of Ofrenda Magazine, we honor all these ideas of nepantla: expressions of two-ness, liminality, weaving, discovery, and transformation—including the seasonal transformation that is spring.
With deep gratitude for their wisdom, unique perspectives, hearts, and words, I introduce you to this issue’s contributors:
May the words from their sacred breath inspire you, bringing you joy, encouragement, and healing.
Be on the lookout for audio versions of these creative works, too. A few are included in this digital issue launch, and we’ll be posting more in weeks to come. Sign up for our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram for the latest updates.
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Thank you. Gracias. Tlazocamati.