TEXANA READS: Poems and essays will speak to those who live between two worlds

Dr. Manuel Flores
Texas Tribune
Texana Reads

Before there were TV shows like “The Twilight Zone” and “Outer Limits” and movies like “The Conjuring” and “Stranger Days, ” there was nepantla.

The Nahuatl (language of the Aztec) word represents the reality the Aztec felt of living in two cultures, or two realities. One culture was so dominant and strong that it became a way of life and another survived hidden in the shadows of the past never again to be taken seriously or discussed intellectually.

In essence, the Aztec felt they were living in an “in between” land.

The Aztec lost their culture, their religion, their books, and libraries as they were immersed in the new ways of the Spanish. The Aztecs, shortly after, disappeared. In the 21st century, that nepantla sensation describes the lives of the Mexican American in the United States -- Mexican enough to remember the folklore of their parents and American enough to enjoy “Modern Family” on TV or the songs by Drake.

Surviving in two worlds is difficult. That experience was brilliantly captured in a new book titled “Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican American families in between Worlds.” Edited by Sergio Troncoso and enriched with contributions from 22 Mexican American authors who have lived the nepantla experience, this book is both a sociological study and an ethnographic model of lives for Mexican Americans in the United States. It is particularly poignant for those who live in borderlands, like we do in Texas, with Mexico on the south of the Rio Grande and the U.S. and Texas to the north.

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The book is divided into essays, poetry, and fiction. The essays lead off, after a compelling introduction by Troncoso, and they do not disappoint. Among the most thought-provoking are the essays by Troncoso, “Life as Crossing Borders,”  Corpus Christi’s own Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s “Día de los Muertos,” Rigoberto Gonzalez’s “The Wonder Woman T-Shirt,” and Alex Espinoza’s “In(toxic)cated Masculinity.” The titles themselves give clues as to the seriousness of the essay and help understand the pain these writers feel as they maneuver through life in an in-between world.

The poetry is eclectic and beaming with life experiences many will relate to as they ponder the meaning of the words. Renowned author Sandra Cisneros has one of the best in “Jarcería Shop,” a poem sprinkled with Spanish words that many who have crossed the border and dwell in nepantla will appreciate. The understanding the poem starts with the meaning of  jarcería. It is a lost word. Equally as moving is Octavio Quintanilla’s “You’re Tired of Your Life.” All are moving and honest.

The poetry section is one that should be read slowly to seek understanding. Helena Maria Viramontes’ offering “The Surprise Trancazo” will hold deep meaning for many readers. Matt Mendez’s ”The Astronaut” is ironic and serves as a declaration that memory persists even after many changes.

The irony of this book is that many who do not understand the impact of living in two worlds, living in the borderlands, will think it’s a book about Hispanic thought or a Mexican experience. It is not. It is a reflection of American society through the mind and eyes of people who continue to try to fit in and be accepted in American society.

Nepantla may be an Aztec word coined after the Spanish conquest of the new world, but it has taken new significance in today’s world and understanding its nuances will help us to better understand how people live today.

About the book

“Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature on Families in Between Worlds.”

By Sergio Troncoso, editor, 22 contributors

Texas A&M University Press, College Station, Texas,  (2021)

ISBN-13: 978-1-62349-963-1

HC, 250 pages

Available at: amazon.com – HC $30, Kindle $9.99; barnesandnoble.com -  HC $30,  Nook $11.99; tamupress.com – cloth $30.

About the editor

Sergio Troncoso is the author of “The Last Tortilla and Other Stories”, “A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son, “Crossing Borders: Personal Essays,” and the novels “The Nature of Truth,” “From This Wicked Patch of Dust” and “Nobody’s Pilgrims.”  Troncoso is a resident faculty member of the Yale Writers’ Workshop and president of the Texas Institute of Letters.

Texana Reads

This weekly column focuses on new and old books about Texas or related to Texas. It includes fiction and nonfiction books, reports on political and sports books as well as cultural or historical works. The common thread among these books is their relationship to Texas, specifically South Texas.

For suggestions on topics or books, email manuelf78407@yahoo.com.

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