Panel 4: "ADHD & race"

Flipped webinar (9/Jul/21): 'Intersectional Approaches to Disability and Race' (here)

ADHD Latinxs as nepantleras: Embracing multiple worlds

Rudolph P. Reyes II

PhD candidate in the Iliff School of Theology, University of Denver

As an ADHD Chicano, I inhabit multiple worlds. It took me a long time to realize how the world of my neurodivergence merged with my Chicano world. I was always aware of being different, but it was not until high school I realized the oppressive nature of race. It was upon learning of an encounter of one of my brother’s friends that hit home the oppressive nature of race. My brother’s friend was undocumented and was driving without a license. As is often the case in white suburbs, he was pulled over for a “minor infraction.” The police officer demanded license and registration. As he did not have a license, he was arrested. They attempted to deporting him after learning of his undocumented status. This was a wakeup call. And the beginning of my raised consciousness of race. The beginning of my embrace of my Chicano world.


I do not talk with an accent or make white people feel threatened when they get to know me. Yet, this does not provide immunity from a racist world. I will be thought of as a foreigner in my own land and a target of suspicion. At the same time, my language and light brown skin protect me from even greater danger. Those Latinxs, who are further from the white cisheterosexual male middle class norm, are at greater risks of violence. This was a wakeup call. The beginning of my embrace of my Chicano world.


I have always received praise for my ideas, but never my grammar. One semester in college, I received back a final paper with great expectation. I was trying to synthesize two ideas in a novel way. When I got back my paper, my excitement turned to shock, anger, and disappointment. There was positive feedback, but I could only focus on one comment. The comment read: “There are a lot of grammatical errors, but I assume this is because English is not your first language.” English is my first language. The only Spanish I knew was my family's idiosyncratic use of Spanglish. My ADHD way of writing was not attributed to my neurodivergence, but to my racialized identity. My professor assumed I was not an American because of the color of my skin, last name, and my way of writing. An ADHDer’s bodymind is read through another positionality. This happens when neurodivergent embodiment is attributed to one’s race, gender, sexuality, class, religion or culture.


This is a microaggression of racialized neuronormativity, where a mental deficit model is ascribed to black and brown bodyminds. This ableist construction of race can make it difficult to embrace mental disability. Time and energy are spent proving one’s intelligence and fear that your way of speaking or writing will reinforce white supremacist’s images of Latinxs.


As an ADHDer, I police myself to make sure I am not late to meetings or appointments. This is not only because ADHDers’ experience of crip time is interpreted as a moral failing, but this crip time will be attributed to my race. Masking is exhausting. I bought into narratives of overcoming, even as those narratives caused me mental distress. Everyday ADHD Latinx receive thousands of messages that the way they embody the world is wrong. These accumulate over a lifetime. ADHD Latinxs live in multiple realities, where their embodiment is simultaneously moralized and racialized. It took me a long time before I would identify as disabled. It would take me a long time to embrace my neurodivergent world.


This space of multiple realities is nepantla, a Nahuatl word for the land in the middle to describe in-betweenness. My experience of nepantla is the colliding, rubbing up, and grading of multiple worlds within myself and in my encounter with others. There is pain there. The awareness that you are out of time and nowhere to fit in. There is healing that occurs in this space when one weaves together oneself after being ripped apart.


There are people who come out of nepantla seeking to transform the world. Gloria Anzaldúa calls these people nepantleras. For Anzaldúa, nepantleras bring a perspective from the cracks between worlds. These cracks are the fissures where multiple worlds meet. To be a nepantlera is a choice to transform realities. The work of nepantleras is one of spiritual activism. What is this spiritual activism? For Anzaldúa it is “the activist stance that explores spirituality’s social implications as ‘spiritual activism’ - an activism that is engaged by a diverse group of people with different spiritual practices” (Anzaldúa 39). This spirituality is not tied to one religion, but a way of noticing the interconnectedness of all life. Nepantleras ground themes in their own multiverse and reach out to others seeking healing and transformation.


Spiritual activism is the healing one experiences in these multiple worlds and then reaching out to others to heal the wounds of colonialism, racialized neuronormativity, and other intersecting forms of oppression. My process of healing started when I embraced my multiple worlds. I had come to embrace my Chicano world and my neurodivergent worlds, but not together. Then I had an epiphany while reading Yvonne Christian’s “They Said I Didn’t Act Like a Black” in All the Weight of Our Dreams. She writes about how her diagnosis unlocked a new level of self-understanding. She writes: “That diagnosis made me realize why other people didn’t see me as a black woman because I was really an autistic black woman” (Christian, 198). There on the couch reading, I began a process of healing. My experience of multiple worlds, outsider in white settings, Chicano settings, and neurodivergent settings was because I am an ADHD Chicano.


These experiences propel my intellectual activism to re-imagine religious thought and critique theologies and ethics that support racialized neuronormativity. These experiences lead me into community and co-create with my fellow ADHDers and neurodivergents. These experiences lead me to question, challenge, and re-imagine pedagogy within theological education. It is this experience that allows me to listen to the ways I am complicit in others’ marginalization. It is this experience that leads me to write this blog post you are reading.


This is a way - emphasis on a rather than the way - ADHD Latinxs engage in praxis to combat racialized neuronormativity, but it is not the only way. We must avoid the violence of the one, where all other ways of being are targeted for destruction.


I will end with Anzaldúa’s words: “the task of remaking our selves and our culture is in our own hands; the task of las nepantleras is to point the way” (Anzaldúa 81). ADHD Latinxs point to a way to re-imagine our ADHD bodyminds and our neurodivergent culture to seek to transform the everyday oppression of racialized neuronormativity to a better cognitive future for all.