The next essay is the introduction of “Nepantla Familias: Anthology of Mexican-American Literature on Families Between Two Worlds” (Texas A&M University Press), a collection of essays, short stories, and poems edited by award-winning author and scholar Sergio Troncoso, born in El Paso and raised in Ysleta. “Nepantla Familias” features the work of acclaimed Mexican-American writers and emerging voices including Daniel Chacon, Sheryl Luna, David Dorado Romo and Octavio Solis.
By Sergio Troncoso
As a child in the Ysleta neighborhood about a quarter of a mile from the US-Mexico border, I had a strange recurring dream: I was suspended in the clouds or the fog, on a beam, falling gently in the sky. ‘forgetting on one side and then falling on the other. I would never feel pain or terror, and I would never know what happened after I fell to either side of the beam. In the dream, it was the fall that sort of counted the movement, and he would sit on the beam for a few seconds before I inevitably swung and fell to one side or the other.
Over the years, after leaving childhood and El Paso, after leaving the border and returning there, I have interpreted this dream of “middle ground” in many ways. Live between Spanish and English. To be Mexican but also American. Choose values that I inherited from my parents while choosing values that I have created for myself. Live in many worlds in one day – worlds of the past and present, worlds of cities and rural areas, and worlds of different languages and cultures. I believed that the dream image applied even to my sense of being between the stranger who is being ignored or attacked and the native who is intrinsically part of the United States. Lately, as I get older, I think of this dream in another way, like living on the border between life and death, with the many questions to be answered about the “unknown country” that we will all visit, but also about how these same questions are changing the life I live today. Strangely, falling to one side helps you understand your fall to the other side in the next instance.
This common ground or border is called “nepantlaBy Mexican and Mexican-American writers. The word comes from Nahuatl, the language used by the Aztecs. Nepantla has been with me, in one way or another, my whole life. A new anthology of essays, poems and short stories that I have edited is called “Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature on Families in between Worlds”. Nahuatl. Spanish. And English. The title itself contains the many worlds that Mexican Americans have traveled through.
The anthology reflects the diversity and variety of experiences that could explain, reveal and mysteriously explore this liminal land so essential to the Mexican-American experience, especially within families. Because it is through our families that we live the nepantla, that we negotiate it, that we ask ourselves questions about our identity and our choices, that we are convinced of falling in one way or another, even of falling. ‘perpetually balance between many different worlds. Through our families, we understand “the other side” better, although we may fall more into a different side than our ancestors.
This Mexican-American experience of living between two worlds has been – and will forever be – essential and important to the United States for at least three reasons. The first reason, of course, is Mexico’s proximity to the United States and the growing number of Mexican Americans who are citizens of the United States. But the ability of at least some Mexican Americans to come and go easily, between countries and languages, gives this first reason a continuing vitality that does not exist for other immigrants in the United States. And the fact that many non-Mexican Americans not only travel regularly to visit our neighbor to the south, but live and retire in Mexico, has created another version of nepantla that somehow harmonizes with “Mexican American nepantla “.
The second reason why the Mexican-American nepantla will remain at the forefront of our culture and our society is what it reveals: the wounds of our history. The wounds of Mexicans feeling like foreigners in a country that was once theirs. The wounds of leaving Mexico for an opportunity in the United States and then often feeling behind in language, knowledge, and power. Injuries from leaving the house for a better place you also want to make a home. Some of these wounds heal permanently, and others heal for a while, only to be hollowed out again later. Many of these wounds can haunt us even as we appear polite, accomplished, and well integrated into our communities in the United States. These wounds define us in many ways, and should define us, not only for the pain they have caused us, but also for what we have endured and overcome. In moments of peace, these wounds can even be the source of our tragicomedy and our laughter.
This brings us to the third reason why I believe nepantla will remain a vital experience in the United States: As much nepantla helps understand Mexican Americans, living in a happy medium – with its uncertainty and self-questioning – is also a universal to live. But to appreciate this, we have to cross our own borders. Towards empathy.
The new anthology I have edited is a way for readers to discover new possibilities for understanding the Mexican-American experience, regardless of their background.
That’s my hope, at least, as a publisher. Anyone who has left their home and tried to find a new one in a strange – sometimes welcoming and sometimes hostile – place should find themselves in the work of Mexican-American writers exploring nepantla. Anyone who felt hampered by ancestors and their demands, but also emboldened by their sacrifices and forgotten values, should find themselves. Anyone who has forged a self out of pieces of many worlds, to fit and not in a new home, who has balanced out on many beams to understand the different sides – yes, they should meet again. Anyone who has loved another from a different world must recognize a version of themselves. And anyone who has crossed a border to create what he is, rather than take who he is for granted, rather than assume that a place is his own – and has suffered the consequences – he will find his traveling companions, his soulmates. .
I hope that Mexicans Americans writing about their nepantla experience will not only speak to Mexicans Americans, but also become a bridge for those who are not Mexican Americans to understand another community as well as to understand themselves. Understanding and writing from the perspective of a particular community – being deeply proud of that community – does not inherently mean that you cannot understand others outside of your community. The proposition either / or that requires you to choose between your community and, say, your country has never been true. The very skills we learn to cross borders within ourselves help us cross borders to others outside of our community. The many worlds that Mexican Americans have traversed convey a balance between these worlds that indicates a new self for a new world.
Sergio Troncoso is the current president of the Texas Institute of Letters and for many years taught at the Yale Writers’ Workshop. He is the author of eight books as well as the upcoming “Nobody’s Pilgrims: A Novel”, which will be published in 2022. In 2018, El Paso City Council unanimously voted to rename the public library branch d’Ysleta en Sergio Troncoso Branch Library. .
Cover photo: Sergio Troncoso in 1978. (Photo courtesy of Sergio Troncoso)
Disclosure: The introduction to this essay was written by Bill Clark, owner of the El Paso Literary Bookstore. Clark and Troncoso financially support El Paso Matters, and Clark sits on the board of directors of El Paso Matters.