I am a nepantlera. I know I am.
But I have been in denial about it for years. I had read about it in Gloria Anzaldua’s book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza and I had a intimate friendship with Anzaldua, but I never realized until much later that is why she loved me. Nepantleras live different because we know death intimately. Randy Conner, a close friend of Gloria’s used to say that he had to be careful because if he told Gloria it was dangerous, then she would go there! My denial must have been from all that pressure to be agringada. All that training to be an All American girl kept me from knowing myself. But they could never wipe the neon nopal off my forehead.
Maybe my turning Big Fifty is the reason I am so intensely into Death this year . Or could it be the dirty little secrets that are now being revealed about our environment like the pinche BP Oil Spill y Coal Ash Spills? Or is it that iceberg melting in Greenland that has an effect on me? Is it my society’s self disgust of our bodies? Or is it that people are killing themselves and others in numbers like gay teen suicides? Do I need to mention the continuous worldwide class and racial wars ? The polite masks have been removed and the racist faces and words coming out are retefeo y sin verguenza. “We have a Black president and too many Mexicans! ”, the Haters just come out and say it. There is so many big chingazos that we haven’t had the chance to exhale. The grief is too much too much. Makes me wanna give up and holler they way they do my life like a heartbroken Marvin Gaye said in his song. The internet has me planetary connected to Death now more than ever. What is worse is that some of us like to see realistic killings on Television. Those of us who are connected to the earth know there are no more signs of the times. These are the days the Elders warned us about. Ya se cabo el pedo. These days are dangerous times. We can’t pretend anymore. THIS is IT.
This summer after spending the day digging for Arkansas crystals with my godchild Niko, we stopped in Hot Springs to fill our containers with the sacred water . I said to him, “Baby, this is some of the cleanest water you will find on the planet. Let’s say our prayers. There may not be good water like this for very long and one day you will remember this day, Baby. And be careful the water is hot.” I watch his brown little hands on the jug saying his prayers looking all serious and being careful not to get burned by the hot water. Right then, I wanted to burst out in tears opon feeling like the next generations ahead will get to taste and know sweet water .
The truth is our planet is dying. And its breaking my heart. Yeah, you may say Earth is not dying and that we humans and other species will die but the earth will still be here. This isn’t about whether we survive or not. It’s about how we respond to our emotionally as humans who have been industrialized. Our industrial culture has taught us to fear death. Nepantleras would say that we are all being awakened. Nepantleras say we must be mas daring and embrace vulnerability. We know those that refuse to be awakened will keep on feeding who and what controls them. This is what the Industrial does to the Indigeneous.
We assimilate. We forget. We go numb. We go for chemical lobotomies via illicit drugs or legal pharmaceuticals. It’s easier to get a drug than a hug. We go back to work a week after death or birth. We go into a Coyolxauhqui state. And just like Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec goddess whose body was dismembered, we are torn apart from parts of ourselves. Nip tuck here and there. Our lives follow the script we used to deal with when the sexual abuse, incest and rape happened to us. We compartmentalize. We check out and stare at the ceiling light and will do anything to leave our bodies. And we stay there and exist. Some of us never move out of here. Y lo… we try and build community with our social anxiety! Intimacy has become terrifying. Social networks and the internet falsely numbs our loneliness like porno and candy. This is surely a death. Some of us never really get to know the healing that happens in a Coatlicue state. Few of us know Coatlicue, the goddess. Goddess of las Hijas de la Chingada… She terrifies us.
The Coatlicue state is the journey and initiation of Nepantleras. It can be a choice or it can be forced by the universe/creator. The Coatlicue state is labor before a baby is born. Its getting bit by a snake and transmuting the poison. Its recognizing and daring to revisit old wounds and space we occupy in that state is the healing. We avoid opportunities to heal old hurts and wounds. Healing is found when we touch our tenderness. As my friend, Tufara from Arkansas says, “Sometimes healing is ugly. We have to lance the thang. And it gets stanky!”. This is what we no longer know. This is what is what is lost about how to heal ourselves.
Most of us left behind are too young to be elders yet. And as each elder crosses over, we lose ourselves, lose our healing ways. We don’t even know how to breathe. We never fully inhale.. never completely exhale. All that we know now is to take our grief into our dungeons of silence and isolation. We hide. We settle. We are in a state of shock. Death is experiencing all the things we don’t want to feel like getting older, getting sick, or being broke. Death is disappointment. Death is any BYE BYE ADIOS.
If it is true and these are the days the elders warned us about and you are unprepared-here is the shortcut-Tell the truth. The preparation and the test are the same. That truth may be that you are secretly homophobic and have a lot of ugly feelings about LGBT people. Tell the truth and work on it. Work on it? See? We don’t even know what that looks like……I always say if you cant get over then you have to go thru it. Set it up. Go where you don’t want to go. Its time to freak out. This is the good red road to Nepantla
Go where its retefeo. Go where good girls don’t go. What you can’t face will find you anyway. Be daring. Dare to reclaim your power. Not power over, but claim power within and power with. Let go and feel ALL the hopelessness.
Nepantla is not just being in the middle of two worlds. Its about walking in balance. Joy and Grief are equally available. It about being present and awake. You are not here but everywhere. You are connected far better than any internet to information and intelligent creativity than you think. Nepantleras are always wanna be starting something. They pass the limits. They cross the borders. We are beautiful but how much more we could be without the ball and chains shackled to our ankles? How much more would we create and solve the issues of the planet? Who would I be and what could we do without all this hurt, doubt and hopelessness? It starts with me and ends with we. Its how we love in the little things.
My comadre and I prepare my godchild, Niko, for the death of his abuelita. We tell him she doesn’t have much time left here. I tell him he needs to say what he needs to say and spend as much time as he can with her. He says she is always sleeping more now. We tell him she is very sick. I said, “Baby she can still hear you. Light your candle. Say your prayers for her. And let me or mama hold you if you feel like crying.”
We can still talk to our dead and in some ways it’s easier when they are dead. They arent as full of angst as when they were alive. For years, I was afraid I was gonna hear voices from the dead. And I told my teacher that I ever started to hear voices and channel spirits that I was gonna shit in my pants and pack my bags and run to New Mexico to be with her. She told me I better pack up bags. And she was right. But it wasn’t like I expected it.
When my Tia Lena, the Jehovah Witness homophobe died, as I was lighting a white candle for her on my altar, I heard her. But it wasn’t with sound. She was upset she was dead and mad that I was the only one that could hear her. Here it was the first woman I fell in love with and oh how I loved her. She loved me too. But homophobia was why we stayed away for years. Who would have thought it would happen like that with my Tia? I love the tricks Creator plays on me.
You don’t have to wait for Dia de los Muertos to do this. Build you altar. Talk to your dead. Defy the military industrial complex society. Love yourself and take the time. We need to tell our stories. Death isn’t in our mind. The story of our life is written in our heart and bodies. Its in our gut. We can stop saying goodbye intellectually. Feel the stories in our body. Hear the story of each person. This is how we did it when we used to get together with our village people after supper. And we make things sacred whenever we say the names of all our beloved. Im tugging on your spirit. It’s as simple as that.
Get to know death not just as a body dying but death as hopelessness. Death as drug addiction and divorce. Death as a foreclosure and bankruptcy. Death as depression, diabetes, cancer, AIDS and fibromyalgia. Being awake unnerves us being genuine means moco flowing y our knees shaking. Death softens us up wakes us up. We open ourselves and let ourselves be touched.
Only then as you step out of isolation and risk humiliation and betrayal, you will then know Nepantla. Nepantla is the space you arrive after you hold space for ourselves and others just like we do when we do Dia de los Muertos. Can we walk fire together and tell truth? And can we gather together and grieve the death of the sacred tree? Nepantleras know we have a sacred contract with that requires the utmost committement to authenticity. Or as we say,” Keeping it 100” or as the Cholas say, “ FOR THE REAL”. And then we must ask ourselves this question: To what do we commit ourselves? That is the core of how to build community sacredly. Nepantleras are the link to the sacred world.
One hot Texas day while I stopped at a long red light at a busy intersection, I suddenly noticed an energy change and my body sensed something wrong with the people in the streets. My mind was confused but my body and my eyes scanned around. Mind syncs up and I turn to the left of me because now I see people running to that direction. All energy suddenly is focused to that left corner. As the light changes, my heart softens and I am touched. A little poodle like dog had been hit by a car and everyone in that moment were all sending their best love and light to that dog. Tears well up in me as I drive off. And I am touched and reminded again of the true nature of humans is goodness. Death awakens me.
If what stands before me is death and my planet and all its ugly, then let it wake me up more to life. Let me break out of the shackles of Mental Slavery. Y you?
Firewalk with me.