by Aracely Mondragon, ’13

"Nepantlera" – Celia Herrera Rodriguez

quedan 4 minutos con 36 segundos en esta llamada

The process of calling my ‘ama
Acaso no vivo en esa llamada?
esperando desde el otro lado
viviendo en mi fantasía
que tengo alas y vuelo
muy pero muy cerca del sol
adonde abro mis colores
que bailo
con la mujer de libertad
hasta cruzar su mirada
y otras más frías
hay a quienes
les molesta
todo mi revoloteo
me quieren enjaular
convertir mi jardin en invierno
y cuando eso pasa
solo sueño
que vuelo sur
y allí vuelvo a nacer

Not quite volando en dos mundos more like stumbling through many worlds, dreaming of flying over them with the same grace of a paloma.

This year my mind oscillates between worries about my mother, the emotional and financial stability of my family, and the anxieties about my future and post-grad life.

When asked about my future and how I reconcile pressures to gain financial stability and the deceptive notion that you can only do so with certain majors and careers, I think of my immigrant parents, their hopes and dreams in the US and I ask myself the same question.

My parents came to the US for a better life, their dream was for their daughters to have a better life. That their daughters would get an education and not suffer the pangs of hunger they did. That is what they have always envisioned success to mean, for them as well as for us.

And there are those who tell me that I can succeed, because in the US “We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag…” President Obama

But these promises don’t close the wound of my family’s separation, alleviate our displacement, they don’t make the phone calls any easier.

the hi grandma on the other end
te extrano and I love you
yo tambien
words linger in the darkness of the 3 hour difference
from Escondido to Guerrero
float around
like hopes rising up from the smoke of an adobe stove
evaporating off their sun kissed foreheads
then nestling in to the thickness of LA smog
hopes that find their way across deserts
only to be suspended over the hardwood of a lawyer’s desk
waiting for a nod to humanity

There is static on this phone line telling me… we’re still waiting.

The distance becomes stronger when I can’t talk to my mother and I want to scream, but instead I curl up into myself under a big thick blanket bought at the Tijuana border and cry until I fall asleep. And then the day is gone and there’s one more incomplete paper waiting to be finished

Maybe when I come back from thinking about home or my lack thereof I’ll look at those applications, but that’s in two years so I’ll just lay here a little longer.

This year has been and will be particularly difficult as I prepare myself to move physically across the border. But I’ve never entirely lived on either side though my birth certificate says Escondido, California. I’ve always felt the displacement that so many of us carry on our backs.

This has always been a battle where I sacrifice a little bit of myself in order to advance in their system.

In high school, I shut everything about my chicanidad out of the classroom, making sure I fit in and didn’t cause any trouble. You keep the banda and bottle of tajin at home. The music you twirl around to all sounds the same to them. And putting chili powder on fruit is just strange.

Even as I have found spaces that appreciate my whole person, I still struggle to bring those to the rest of the world. Every conversation, I think to myself if only I wouldn’t talk about race so much or make so many cultural references… and if that’s all that ever comes out of my mouth, is that all I am?

I keep having this crisis over my identity, having to justify who I am even to the mirror. And I worry about those parts of me I expose on a daily basis waiting for them to be judged. As I move forward I can’t help the anxiety of what other spaces will look like and my own capacity to imagine somewhere called home. I don’t truly believe that every professor would read my papers with the transitions written in Spanish, incluso I bet others would tear that kind of writing up and tell me to go back and rewrite an actual academic paper.

But it’s also been made clear to me that home is not México, that’s my abuela’s home, I don’t think it’s my mother’s either. Although born in Guerrero and there now, after spending 22 years in California she is more displaced than I am. I am still privileged enough to physically travel through my various mundos. Her chains look a little different.

arribamigenteupdateSo what am I doing with my education to help free her? And can I do so without first liberating myself?

Yes I am fulfilling that “American Dream” Obama and my parents speak of by getting a higher education, but after all this learning I’ve been doing some unlearning as well. And I’ve come to realize that success means more to me than an upward financial mobility. That my dreams of a better life look a little different.

That a better life to me means
being able to rewrite my communities’ history
being able to reinscribe my own body into existence

I lost a lot of me growing up in a society that didn’t value my dark skin and female body. When I was born into a mixed-status family in a land divided by iron fences, my body was split inside and out. When they said “It’s a girl” and they told me I was rajada and susceptible to fracaso, I inhaled their fears of me as a sexual being.

we are left here
sin palabras
there’s enough emptiness here
in between our bodies
feet dragging through the dirt from one to another
sand coated skin
hands tied to a chain in a far away cage

Now here I am, a nepantlera asking myself

How do we reclaim land and our bodies? How do we find a physical and emotional home?

As I struggle to navigate the many worlds I live in and find belonging, I find myself relying on writing to help keep me steady. Tambaleando on this tightrope, sometimes writing is the only thing that makes sense to me.

Through poetry and prose, I’ve been piecing myself together more and more. I react to my world through words and through words I shape my world.

‎”Through the deep meaning place that is personal story, oppression may not only be made manifest but reframed, no longer a secret shame but a political condition.” Cohen-Cruz.

Slowly my writing has become more than just a personal healing, transforming itself into a political statement, one in which I claim my right to write an erased history, claim my right speak my own language of resistance. Because to say these words means I am no longer being defined by others, living in a world they created for me. I am not the immigrant daughter our president speaks of, nor am I the traditional daughter my culture asked for.

I resist these narratives, they are not mine. So I am rooting myself in this female body and the love for the female, rooting myself in my critical but compassionate love for mi gente. And it is this love and my expression of this love through words that gives birth to my conciencia, and in turn gives birth to me.

So this is how I reconcile having one foot in an academic world another in a MeXicana world, this is how I come to terms with straddling the US-Mexico line and this is my dream.

What I want to do with my life is give my community this vision, my vision of an intimate circle of women sharing their pains and healing in each other’s presence, my vision of someone reading these words and feeling hope.

This is how I find home.

Soy poeta. Soy mujer. Soy la resistencia.


Aracely is a senior majoring in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity with a focus on expressions of women of color. Her family is from Guerrero, Mexico but she was born in Escondido, CA.  

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One thought on “Nepantlera

  1. Monica Adibe says:

    Amazing. Thanks for this!

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