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Nepantla
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Admonitions of the Magistrates to the People
Primeros Memoriales, Bernardino de Sahagun
1558-1560

The words of a Nahuatl Indian from the middle of the sixteenth century refer to the risks, so closely related to cultural identity, that can present themselves in attempts at inducing acculturation. A Dominican friar, Diego Duran, had reprimanded a native for his behavior, pointing out that it was also in discord with the ancient indigenous customs and morals. The wise old native responded: Father, don't be afraid, for we are still 'nepantla'--in other words, "in the middle", or as he later added, "we are neutral." The ancient institutions had been condemned and mortally wounded, while the ones the friars imposed were still strange and at times incomprehensible. Consequently, the Indians found themselves nepantla, "in between." The commitment to forcing change had wounded the very values and foundations of the indigenous world. The violent attacks against the indigenous religion and traditions, the death of the gods, and the difficulty in accepting the new teachings as true had already affected the people deeply and had brought about, as a consequence, the appearance of nepantlism. The concept of nepantlism, "to remain in the middle," one of the greatest dangers of culture contact ruled by the desire to impose change, retains its full significance, applicable to any meaningful understanding of similar situations.

From Endangered Cultures, Miguel Leon-Portilla, Southwestern Methodist University Press, Dallas, 1990. Page 10