Linda Heidenreich is an associate professor of history and of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Washington State University. They are the author of Neplanta Squared: Transgender Mestiz@ Histories in Times of Global Shift (Nebraska, 2020) and “This Land Was Mexican Once”: Histories of Resistance from Northern California.
Our world is trans-ing.
We live in a world of motion-change. This is the phrase that sang to me as I went to sleep each night and as I woke each morning over a decade ago. Today, amid a global pandemic, populist rebellions and climate change, it rings even more true. It is the philosophical base of my latest book, Nepantla2, where I look to earlier times of transition and motion change to try to imagine how we might swim, survive, or even flourish in the present.
Gloria E. Anzaldúa, that great Chicana philosopher-poet of the twentieth century, saw the world as motion-change, and called us to embrace change and difference—our world in motion. Octavia Butler, the science fiction writer-prophet wrote “all is change,” as did Saint Teresa of Ávila, Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, over five centuries ago. Clearly, as human beings, this is not our first experience of national or global upheaval, in fact the phrase, motion-change comes to us from James Maffie’s translation of the very word nepantla—a Nahuatl word from precolonial Mexico that Aztecs used to describe the world around them. Theirs, like ours, was “a world in motion.”
And so as I wrote Nepantla2 I looked to both the present and the past: the world of the Aztecs; of nineteenth-century people whose gender shifted as their bodies moved and were moved through monopoly capitalism; the lives of transgender women, immigrants and workers as we moved into the global capitalism of our own era; and of the myriad of people who resisted the violence that sometimes fuels that motion change and that meets it with positive motion—immigrants, trans-activists, Zapatistas, and the girl next-door. What we find when we look to the past is not romantic but rich in movement, life, defeat, survival, and hope.
Nepantla2 is an invitation to look to the past with hope because we do survive, often against all odds. As a person who grew up between ethnicities and between genders part of what I sought in the past was antepasad@s, ancestors, people who came before me who lived in the in-between spaces of their time. And so in the course of my searching one of the first historical figures to first catch my eye as a child of nepantla was Jack Garland. Like me he had grown up in a mixed-ethnic environment—Euro-American and Latinx. After the U.S. Invasion of Northern Mexico (1846-48) Garland’s father, José Marcos Mugarrieta, became the first Mexican Consul to California. His mother was Eliza Garland, daughter to the US Senator of the same name. Who was this transgender man who lived between genders in a time of global shift—from accumulative to monopoly capitalism? How did he survive? How did others see him? Were there moments of joy in his life?
As I journeyed through time I found that Jack was not unique in his trans-ing, but that time trans-es. Capitalism trans-es, resistance trans-es. Zapatismo and the global north move and clash even as transgender women are pushed from their homelands into motion, sometimes finding refuge in places of hope such as Fray Tomás González Castillo’s La 72, a shelter for LGBTI refugees from places south of Mexico.
We live in what Gloria E. Anzaldúa termed “Nepantlan times.” Journey with me as we look to the trans-ing past to find hope for our trans-ing present.