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What is Nepantla?

"Nepantla is a Nahuatl word meaning 'in-between space.' Anzaldúa adopted this term, and used it to represent psychic/spiritual/material points of potential transformation." ~AnaLouise Keating


Excerpt from: Keating, AnaLouise (2006) "From Borderlands and New Mestizas to Nepantlas and Nepantleras: Anzaldúan Theories for Social Change," Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge: Vol. 4: Iss. 3, Article 3.

Living between cultures results in ‘seeing’ double, first from the perspective of one culture, then from the perspective of another. Seeing from two or more perspectives simultaneously renders those cultures transparent. Removed from that culture’s center you glimpse the sea in which you’ve been immersed but to which you were oblivious, no longer seeing the world the way you were enculturated to see it.

From the in between place of nepantla you see through the fiction of the monoculture, the myth of the superiority of the white races. And eventually you begin seeing through your ethnic culture’s myth of the inferiority of mujeres. As you struggle to form a new identity a demythologization of race occurs. You begin to see race as an experience of reality from a particular perspective and a specific time and place (history), not as a fixed feature of personality or identity. (Gloria E. Anzaldúa, “now let us shift”)


In Anzaldúa’s writings... nepantla indicates liminal space where transformation can occur, and like her theory of the Coatlicue state, nepantla indicates space/times of great confusion, anxiety, and loss of control.

But with nepantla, Anzaldúa underscores and expands the “spiritual, psychic, supernatural, and indigenous” dimensions. As she explains in Interviews/Entrevistas:


 ...With the nepantla paradigm I try to theorize unarticulated dimensions of the experience of mestizas living in between overlapping and layered spaces of different cultures and social and geographic locations, of events and realities—psychological, sociological, political, spiritual, historical, creative, imagined.


During nepantla, our worldviews and self-identities are shattered. Nepantla is painful, messy, confusing, and chaotic; it signals unexpected, uncontrollable shifts, transitions, and changes. Nepantla hurts!!!! But nepantla is also a time of self-reflection, choice, and potential growth—what Anzaldúa describes as opportunities to “see through” restrictive cultural and personal scripts. As I understand the term, then, nepantla includes both radical dis-identification and transformation. We dis-identify with existing beliefs, social structures, and models of identity; by so doing, we are able to transform these existing conditions.

Some people who experience nepantla states become what Anzaldúa calls “nepantleras”: (“in-betweeners,” “those who facilitate passages between worlds” (Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Unnatural Bridges). Like Anzaldúa herself, nepantleras are threshold people; they live within and among multiple worlds, and develop what Anzaldúa describes as a “perspective from the cracks.”

Nepantleras use their views from these cracks-between-worlds to invent holistic, relational theories and tactics enabling them to reconceive or in other ways transform the various worlds in which they exist. Nepantleras have a global consciousness.


As Anzaldúa explains in a 2003 interview, Nepantleras are the supreme border crossers. They act as intermediaries between cultures and their various versions of reality. ...They serve as agents of awakening, inspire and challenge others to deeper awareness, greater conocimiento, serve as reminders of each other’s search for wholeness of being. (Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Speaking Across the Divide)

Art: Richard Ortega

Art: Irrepressible, Danielle Helen Ray Dickson

Art: Contemplando el Paisaje, Chema Cox

"As a young girl, I remember noticing the differences in world views and values between the family and culture I was raised in and what I was experiencing at school and in society. Both had their beauty and gifts, and their challenges. I also saw how much of the conflict in the world arose from not understanding or engaging dialogue across these differences. "  ~Brenda Salgado
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