Nepantla is a Nahuatl word which means “in between” or “in the middle of it”. It is assumed that Nepantla was a term that was first used by the Nahuatl-speaking people in Mexico, the Aztecs, during the Spanish colonization in the 16th century, referring to their conflict of different cultures and ideologies.

Nowadays it is a concept often used in Chicano and Latino anthropology, social commentary, criticism, literature and art with great influence from the works of Gloria Anzaldúa`s, especially “Borderlands/La Frontera” and “Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro”. Anzaldúa´s concept of Borderland Identity refers to her experiences and tensions between the United States and Mexico as living in the borderlands or being at literal or metaphorical crossroads:

“Nepantla, a psychological, liminal space between the way things had been and an unknown future. Nepantla is the space in-­between, the locus and sign of transition. In nepantla we realize that realities clash, authority figures of the various groups demand contradictory commitments, and we and others have failed living up to idealized goals. We’re caught in remolinos (vortexes), each with different, often contradictory forms of cognition, perspectives, worldviews, belief systems—all occupying the transitional nepantla space. Torn between ways, we seek to find some sort of harmony amid the remolinos of multiple and conflictive worldviews.” [1]

Anzaldúa used her experiences as a means to create art and social thought, also by mixing up English, Spanish and Nahuatl words as an expression of her conflict. She called the process of using struggles resulting from sexism, racism and homophobia a starting point which can be understood as a process of developing political, cultural or psychological consciousness as a means of survival. “Anzaldúa makes it clear that remaining a being in two worlds without “cross-pollinization” is deadly for Chicanas and other women of colour. It is to become a hyphenated being, a dual personality enacted from the outside, without the ability to fashion her own responses.” [2] Centring the experiences of women of colour and bringing marginalized voices to the centre, highlights Anzaldúa´s strategy for gaining awareness of the own identity and making use of everyday and structural acts of resistance, and creating theories of social change. These spaces of “in-between-ness”, as Nepantla describes, can also provide opportunities for social transformation and might be applicable and useful for more people nowadays who are in conflict with a larger, perhaps more globally reaching culture or ideology.

[1] Anzaldúa, Gloria E. (2002): Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality. Page 17.
[2] Lugones, María (1992): On Borderlands/La Frontera: An Interpretive Essay. Hypatia, Vol. 7, No. 4, Lesbian Philosophy . Pages 31-37.

Author of the article: Kyra Driesen
Date of publication:

Image source: Santa Barraza, Nepantla, 1995. Arte y Tradición de La Frontera:  The U.S-Mexico Borderlands in the works of Santa Barraza and Carmen Lomas Garza.