Nepantleras: La Gente Sin Fronteras/The People Without Borders

Saturday, June 27

By Emma Garza Chavero


El nombre de la gente sin fronteras

Hemos construido una identidad entre los países y las culturas

Somos los creadores de una nueva realidad



The name of the people without borders

We have built an identity in between countries and cultures

We are the creators of a new reality


There exists a people living in the in-between, the gray area between countries and cultures where the borders between languages and traditions are not blurred- not confused or undecided- but nonexistent. These people, referred to as nepantleras, are an important yet  underestimated part of the Mexican-American community and are transforming nuestra identidad -our identity- in the United States. 


Las Origines de La Nepantlera / The Origins of The Nepantlera

Gloria E. Anzaldúa, queer Chicana poet, writer, and feminist, first coined the term nepantlera to describe the people of the borderlands, people who belong to more than one culture or identity. The word stems from nepantla, a term from the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, who were the original inhabitants of Mexico before the arrival of European colonizers. It is a reference to the space “in-between” two entities. Anzaldúa, in creating an identity from the concept of the in-between, gave life and newfound spirit to those who find themselves unable to identify with just one culture.


Nuestra Identidad en Los Estados Unidos / Our Identity in the United States

For decades, we as Mexican-Americans have tried to define something that has no real definition: our identity. This fight to put a label on what it means to belong to this community has placed borders around our spirits, alienating our own people from the Mexican-American identity. 

My cultural identity is difficult to define. My family is from the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, but I was born in a small border community in the United States. My family is fluent in both Spanish and English, but English and Spanglish roll off my tongue better than Spanish ever could. Spiritually, experiencing these differences- this feeling of disconnection with Mexico and the United States-  feels like I have one foot on either side of the Rio Grande River. Its current threatens to wear me down, to split my soul into two halves, two nationalities that I cannot choose between. On one side of me is Mexico, la tierra extranjera that will always hold a piece of my heart although I feel it does not remember me. On the other side is the United States, my homeland where my family resides today. My spirit feels compelled to choose a side, as if I didn’t I would be left without a cultural home or sense of belonging. Why do I have to pick a side when I know my identity soars beyond the borders of the physical world? The answer lies in the concept of nepantla; I am a child of the borderlands that Anzaldúa so lovingly described, and my spirit and culture have no boundaries.

The Mexican-American experience is as diverse as its people. The concept of nepantla challenges the preexisting definitions of what it means to be Mexican-American and offers a space for those straddling the borders between cultural identities.


La Idea de la Nepantlera / The Idea of the Nepantlera

Nepantleras are essentially a people of connection. In the Mexican-American community, they are the bridges between the languages and traditions of Mexico and the United States. They have built their identity around the fact that they have no true belonging to one country, culture, or language; rather, their identity is unapologetically sin fronteras- without borders.  


(The photo at the top of this article is Frida Kahlo’s “Autorretrato en la frontera entre México y Estados Unidos”, a visual representation of nepantla.)


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