Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Review: Sergio Troncoso. Nepantla Familias

Review: Sergio Troncoso. Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature on Families in between Worlds. College Station: Texas A&M Press. 2021. Isbn 9781623499631 

Michael Sedano

There’s an unspoken rule that anthologies come packed with highs and lows, and that editors arrange contents to open with the near-best stuff and build to a big finish leaving readers fulfilled wanting more. In between, the table of contents hides more workaday stuff, selections that fit the collection’s theme by filling in a literary landscape and provide connecting tissue with the more chingón writing building toward the end and a big wrap.

Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature on Families in between Worlds (link)  breaks all the rules, entonces. Editor Sergio Troncoso assembles a completely readable set of essays, poems, stories, each fully satisfying in itself, and in comparison to neighboring titles. Each piece is the best in the book. But something has to come first, second, next, before, and finally.

Readers won’t have any notion of the blood, sweat, and tears Troncoso must have shed organizing this exploration of its title concept, Nepantla. Go ahead and Google “nepantla.” The editor’s Introduction saves readers divagating into the term, reading deeply into entailed philosophy and art history, ontology, epistemology. 

Troncoso's purposive introduction lays out the editor’s understanding how liminality and nepantla help explain raza experience; it's sufficient to allow the art to do the talking.

Why “nepantla” when “liminality” is already a good word? The editor, and the gateway essay, use “liminal” to explain “nepantla,” but that’s partial. Troncoso assembles his “A” list of raza writers who illustrate, Why “nepantla,” with essays, poems, and stories displaying ways anomie, alienation, appropriation, assimilation, and anglos, define Chicana Chicano exigencies and help fashion responses in their own voices.

There should be little mystery to "nepantla," the title translates it as “in between worlds,” Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature on Families in between Worlds. Back in the sixties, essayists liked to argue how the space, or hyphen, of “Mexican American” and “Mexican-American,” meant Chicanas Chicanos melded into a unique third culture, neither the one nor the other nor the space in between, but all at once.

Familia, the other title word, entails sex, pregnancy, birth, miscarriage, death, age, marriage, religion, spirituality, schooling. These are the literary and expository subjects covered in this collection and the motive and emotional features of raza nepantla landscapes. 

Troncoso explains his focus upon familia in the title and, thus, the contents he’s selected and arranged:

“So the middle ground or borderland that defines nepantla has been with me, in one way or another, all my life, and the essays, poems, and short stories in this anthology reflect the diversity and variety of experiences that might explain, reveal, and mysteriously explore this liminal land that is so essential to the Mexican American experience, particularly within families.” 

The overall structure of the anthology—Essay, Poetry, Fiction—gives readers three ways to read Nepantla Familias, randomly jump into the collection, riffle and read, find a few favorites, or begin at page 1.

Don’t skip the intro.

Sergio Troncoso frames his collection with the critical inspection of the Ivy League professor that’s his day job. The editor explans that this book is another outgrowth of Troncoso’s  career-long literary interest in familia, noting how in earlier work, the author “was trying to create a new ‘home,’ where characters from the border, American literature, and philosophical questions all belonged together in one place.” That's a lot like an identity outside and inside that hyphen space, que no?

The point is nepantla is a known locus. These stories, lines of poetry, prose expositions delve into themes of place, belonging, being out, outsider, insider, excluded. These themes, points of view, stand as loci pulsating around a center that will hold when things fall apart.

Things fall apart a lot in these pieces. Must nepantla entail suffering and misery?

I’d welcome an essay, or a poem, or a story, about happy places. The closest to a happy story is best-selling English language writer Reyna Grande’s chagrin at her Spanish fluency and her pain at losing her first language--she hires people to translate her work for Mexican readers then has to revert to the RAE to read her own book. Most writers place personae in far worse worlds of hurt, pain, danger, pendejismo, mental disintegration. 

Stress grows almost unbearably harsh in powerful  essays from David Dorado Romo, Sergio Troncoso, Reyna Grande, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Francisco Cantú, Rigoberto González, Alex Espinoza. Opening the collection one after the other, reading them supports my claim these are each and together the best stuff in the collection--personally, I prefer Fiction but these Nonfiction pieces kick your ass. If you have blood pressure issues, don't read them at the same sitting.

I’m not picking on José Antonio Rodríguez but I would really like it if Troncoso’s call for nepantla art had turned up a piece that really answered that kid’s question, “Letter to the Student Who Asks Me How I Managed to Do It,” instead of raking the kid emotionally over hot glowing coals. Hijole.

With almost 250 pages of joy—that’s what readers take away in the end—readers of Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature on Families in between Worlds are certain to find themselves mirrored, cautioned, advised, thrilled, disappointed, deeply moved many times over. This is what Kenneth Burke says literature does, allows a reader facing related events to "size up" a situation as a personal resource in fashioning a response. In other words, “literature as equipment for living.” Come to think on it, "living" is a good synonym of "nepantla."

Texas A&M Press enjoys solid distribution through major academic booksellers and local brick and mortar booksellers. You can order publisher-direct, or provide the datos to your bookseller in this link.


Unknown said...

Wow. Always learning. Stuck in the middle, again.

Anonymous said...

Very hard to buy anything from Troncoso, who uses his New York money as what he does as an El Paso writer. People say he paid to get his name on a library here!!! Not because he is so Great Writer. Hard to take!!! Did he pay for this book and this review too??