Oscar Zeta Acosta and Nepantla: The Conceptual In-between

Eric Bergman


In this paper the concept of nepantla, which means ‘torn between ways’ in Nahuatl, the Aztec language, is applied to a reading of Oscar Zeta Acosta’s The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo in order to determine how in-betweenness is represented and constructed in the novel. Based on Gloria Anzaldúa’s theoretical work, the resulting reading into nepantla becomes useful in determining how the protagonist, Oscar, does not narrate his experiences from a static position that can be easily categorized, but rather as a multiplicity in which he is located in a conceptual space in-between multiple categories. As such, applying nepantla to a text broadens the understanding and applicability of non-diachronic identity formations, particularly in contrast to the term mestizaje. Nearly every character in the novel is described in terms of his or her ethnicity, often derogatorily, including the narrator, which, understood as satire, goes beyond the nationalism prevalent in the Chicano Movement. Understood as a religious pilgrimage, the narration develops from a Mexican American Catholic upbringing, to Baptist Anglo Protestantism and ultimately into a form of Aztec religious coding that is in-between inherited and constructed identity categories and framed as a creative nepantlera space and as a choice.

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