Living Life in Nepantla

Some stereotypes are true.  Such as, I am a Chicana, therefore, I must love all things Selena. True and true!  The above clip is from Selena, the movie, when Selena and her brother are in the car with their dad discussing whether Selena is ready to perform in Mexico.  Abraham’s issue is not with her ability to perform, but with her ability to speak Spanish during the press conferences with Mexican media.  Abraham lectures Selena and her brother, A.B., on how exhausting it is to be Mexican American. “You have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time. It’s exhausting!”  He provides a humorous, but accurate description of what it is like to navigate life as a Mexican American.  We exist in Nepantla, braiding together our incongruent experiences to create our identity (Calderon, et. al., 2012).

A braid is my go-to hairstyle when my hair is not in the mood to play nice or when I am not in the mood to spend an hour or more taking some hot contraption to my hair to get it to look like it belongs to a grown-up.  I am not talking about a fishtail, Dutch, four strand or even a French brain.  After decades on this earth, I still haven’t figured out how to upgrade to the fancy braids.  If I ever have a daughter that wants those kinds of braids, I sure hope I have a husband that had sisters and learned how to bust out some master braiding skills.  I am just talking about the basic three strand braid.  You separate your hair into three strands and get to work.  I can take my hair that looks like I styled it by sticking a finger in the electrical outlet to polished professional in a few minutes.  My outlet hair requires lotions and potions to keep my hair in place, some bobby pins to keep the shorter pieces from going rogue and making a run for it and a strong band to keeps it all together.  Nothing can cause panic quite like a ponytail holder busting midday.  You feel your hair getting loose and all of a sudden you have hair in your face and people looking at you with a face that says, “Hmm, what happened there?”

My life is one giant trenza. I have spent my decades braiding together my experiences so that it creates a cohesive picture. My experiences and characteristics go over and under one another everyday to create the summation of my existence.  When you braid hair, it doesn’t always work out quite right.  When you have layers in your hair, if you don’t put enough of the longer hair in with the shorter layers, you end up running out of one strand before you hit the end.  Sometimes you have a beautifully thick braid that trails off into this wimpy and skinny end.  Or, as previously mentioned, sometimes certain pieces are determined to go rogue and leave the trenza completely.

As the strands of my hair do not match neatly to the end, neither do the pieces of my life conform to the neat little ideas that society has of who I should be. I have lived my life deep in the “white side” of town.  My neighborhood is one where the houses all look the same and all of my neighbors are white.  My dad has worked hard as a manager to reach the upper middle class.  My mom was able to exit the workforce 30 years ago and has never returned.  My mom wanted me to learn about Jesus, but she didn’t think she could teach me without bias.  So off I went to private school from K-12.  After high school I obtained two business degrees and now I am working on a doctorate.  Still, I may not be American enough for the Americans.

On the other hand, there are two grandparents that never got on board with speaking English.  Neither went beyond a 2nd grade education.  I have 12 tios and tias and I don’t care to count how many cousins.  I spent summers with some of those family members at a ranch located in a town that, at last census count, had less than 500 people.  The last high school graduation I attended there had 5 kids.  I took albondigas, quesadillas and tamales to lunch as a kid.  I was overjoyed when I opened my lunchbox to find a saladito in my bag of apples at snacktime. If you don’t know, a saladito is a dried and salted plum. It sounds weird, I know, but it is a magical creation.  If you haven’t tried one, you need to do yourself a favor and get on it.  I don’t think I tried a peanut butter and jelly sandwich until high school.  I attend concerts where all the songs are in Spanish.  I am pretty sure my dad annoys some of the neighbors when he blasts his Vicente Fernandez music on the weekends while he washes his 4 cars.  Yes, he is one of those Mexicans that has too many cars.  If the HOA would let him he would have more, but he’s had to move his 3 other vehicles to his brother’s house.  Still, I may not be Mexican enough for the Mexicans.

If you look at those strands separately, they make sense.  They flow. I could be a regular American, livin the dream. I could be a regular Mexican kid, livin my own dream.  But, I am not only one of those stories.  I am both. Over and under. Over and under.  My stories do not fit neatly into societal expectations of what a Chicana’s life should be.  Cerecer et al. (2011), discusses how one aspect of intersectionality can erase or create another.  For example, being a Chicana can erase your middle/upper class associations because the two attributes are viewed as mutually exclusive. You are expected to be one or the other, not both. In Tucson, it is automatically assumed that any Chicana/o comes from the West or South side of town.  The fact that I am from the East side creates an automatic assumption that we moved there to be like the white people.  We are not Mexican enough for the Mexicans.  My grandparents moved the family to the East side before it was any side of town. The white people came to them.

I will always find humor in that scene from Selena, because I understand what it is like to have to move from one side to another.  To have to understand that you will rarely ever fit, just right.  However, I do not find it exhausting.  I find it advantageous. Carillo et al. (2010), discusses that you can critically reject certain aspects of each area of intersectionality and choose the best from all worlds.  You can also move between spaces, you do not have to be confined to one space or another. It is not necessary for me, or anyone else, to fit neatly into a prefabricated box.  My experiences are legitimate.  The knowledge I have gained from these experiences is legitimate.  I live in both worlds, sometimes a bit more in one than the other, but they are my home and no one can tell me otherwise.  I may not be enough for one side or the other, but I am enough for me.  Just like the over and under of a trenza, the over and under of my life may be a bit messy and may not have all pieces in perfect alignment.  But, just like a trenza, in the end it will all work out and it will be beautiful.


Calderón, D., Delgado Bernal, D., Pérez Huber, L., Malagón, M. C., & Vélez, V. N. (2012). A Chicana feminist epistemology revisited: Cultivating ideas a generation later. Harvard Educational Review, 82, 513-539.

Carrillo, R., Moreno, M., & Zintsmaster, J. (2010, September 28). Cultural Production of a Decolonial Imaginary for a Young Chicana: Lessons from Mexican Immigrant Working-Class. Educational Studies, 46(5), 479-499. doi:10.1080/00131946.2010.496696

Nava, G. (Director). (1996). Selena (Motion picture) [Motion picture]. United States: Warner Brothers.
Cerecer, P., Ek, L., Alanis, I., & Murakami-Ramalho, E. (2011). Transformative Resistance as Agency: Chicanas/Latinas (Re)Creating Academic Spaces. The Journal of the Professoriate, 70-92.


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