When I turned 20 I was a depressed, awkward, blue-haired, and woefully closeted queer boy. I had attempted, not one, but two suicides. And, lastly (and probably most damaging), I was completely convinced that I was the only queer Latin@ that ever existed.
Come that following fall, I enrolled (out of a whim) in what would be my first course in Latin American and Latino [sic] Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The title: The History of the Mexican People in the United States. Although never ashamed of my culture or nationality as (what I like to call) the femme first born of Mexican immigrant parents, I hadn’t fully embraced my unique cultural heritage. At the time, I didn’t know I came from a legacy of cultural resistance both as a free floating spore of the Mexican diaspora and as a queer person of color.
It was during that semester that I was first introduced to Gloria Anzaldúa, an out and proud queer tejana from the Rio Grande Valley. I read a portion of Gloria’s book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, which I would eventually take upon myself to complete. It was the first time, I had seen myself reflected in the pages of a book.
Gloria offered me something that I never had before: a word to describe who I was. Before then I had been a student, a man, a Mexican, and (although ashamed of it for far too long) a queer. But all of those words didn’t unify me. With the barrage of words I felt like broken glass, reflecting only a portion of who I truly was. But Gloria knew who I was. I was neither here, nor there. I was in between. I was a nepantlero.
I like her, dwelled in a space of infinite possibility and healing. I lived at the intersections of what it means to be a femme, gender non-conforming male, a Mexican of indigenous heritage, a son of working class immigrants parents, a man who longed to be held by another man. All of it. I lived there, in Nepatla.
We, as queer Latin@s, all live there.
We all straddle different borders, whether physical, psychological, or emotional. It is because we live at the borders that we can see beyond them. The border is therefore not only an open wound, but also source of healing. We who live on the borders of gender, sexuality, race, and class have the unique power to transform that border.
Since that class, I have read and re-read Borderlands/La Frontera countless times, and each time it becomes harder to remember that depressed, awkward, blue-haired, and woefully closeted queer boy. Each time it becomes harder to believe that I could possibly be the only queer Latin@ in existence.
Today is Gloria Anzaldúa’s birthday, and though my hands are empty, my heart is full of gratitude for a woman I never met. Today, with this, I try to thank her for teaching me that “by writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it.” I thank her for teaching me that if “I change myself, I change the world.”
-Un nepantlero por vida