MY GRANDMOTHER IS 94 years old. Like all grandmothers, abuelitas, and elders, she is a link, a bridge between worlds past and present. My Grandma Gloria, as I have called her since I could speak, is the first generation on my mom’s side to be born “here,” on stolen lands. Her father saw Indigenous-Mexico lands become modern-day Texas. Her own life would see her marry at fourteen, birth eight children (one lost in infancy), live through the Great Depression, and work as a housekeeper all her adult life. Her memories, stories, essence, and food (!) are goldmines that have helped me rediscover my own history, lineage, and culture. They are reflections of a self I am slowly beginning to materialize. A verb, made known.
Ay, mija! Mira! she would say when she wanted to point out something special. Something she deemed worth seeing.
Ay, Grandma, mira! I hear myself say as I point to my question of Are we? and search for “evidence” and “proof” of our Indigenous roots.
WE ARE! was all she said, officially closing the door to any further questioning.
These two words are planted firmly as a border between my doubt and her reality—an unwavering wall built with a steeled sense of knowing oneself without needing to be deemed, anointed, or proven as such. A wall of absolute certitude that I have desperately been trying to erect in my life—a wall that so many of us need. Not a wall of us and them, but a wall around WE and ARE. Around our cultural ways of knowing that don’t need or require our receipts, proofs of lineage, or demands that we know everything before we can become anything.
WE ARE! becomes the heartbeat of my days.
Still, there are moments on this voyage of healing and reclaiming my Indigenous self that I feel alone in my story of being a little gxrl lost on lands native to her feet but drained of their culture, traditions, medicines, and tongue. I feel that, in my attempt to walk this path, I am somehow a traitor or fraud to myself—and my grandmother.
And these modern borderlands don’t help.
Instagram ignites a serious bout of mal de ojo where I, scrolling, split into two: one piece swimming in a pool of envy of possibility—That could have been me! If only!—the other piece beaming with pride—Ay, mira! This! This is who I am! This is who WE ARE!
I see post after post of that little gxrl lost to time-god Saturn and mirrored in all the youth of mitú. Youth proudly draped and seeping in tradition, speaking and teaching all those elementals and allies—all those native tongues—that I’ve had to wage wars within myself to even venture out a simple “hola” to.
Here in these modern, mine-filled borderlands, I find myself straddling the world that was (the lands of my grandmother), the world that is (the lands of my mother), and the world they both imagined and worked hard for it to be (the land of opportunity and dreams; the land of the free).
And somewhere in the middle, the Nepantla, is me.
What started as a venture to find evidence of my roots led me down an inner rabbit hole and into a wonderland of bones. The joints of me. The fissures, tissues, and connective matter, where what has always been begins to flesh itself out to be seen.
And what my bones led my seeker-soul to alchemize was this: there are no words or tests that will prove what the fascia in me intrinsically knows. I am of this land. And this land is of me.
There are no labels—queer, Indigenous, brown, native, other—that can prove this energetic knowing. I have nothing to offer the self-appointed guardians of the gateway, armed and ready to call out those without receipts—save for a life that bears the scars of a voyager split down the many middles of both/and/all.
Ay, Grandma! Mira! Here! Here WE ARE!
HERE I AM…
In the Nepantlaland of my 40s arises the all-spirited, split-whole soul reaching for the sun. It’s a long way from here to there with nothing in between. No mirage. No bridge. Just space.
And yet, I am pulled to take a step out into the nothingness anyway—the soul of my foot merging with the soul of the earth. In the space where they meet, I feel every grain of sand, soil, and stone grow and come alive, rooting me in my grandmother’s, and her grandmother’s, and all the grandmothers’ cante jondo of—
Ay! mija, mira! WE ARE with you.
I take another step into nothing. The empty, frigid air begins to crack, burn, and blister my feet.
Sana, sana, my ancestors sing.
I take one last look behind me and see all worlds collide. A multitude of fragments coming together for one millisecond. All pieces, all parts healed whole.
I turn and face my future. I tune my ears to the new song being sung into existence.
Nepantlera. One who bridges.
My soles rise and fall. One foot up. One foot down. Beat after beat, my souls drum their very own cadence, forming a bridge as I walk, becoming verb.
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