Gloria Anzaldúa - Experimental, inventive border thinking: experience of living simultaneously in two places, cultures, languages, realities

Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (Aunt Lute Books, 1987)

"Rooted in Gloria Anzaldúa's experience as a Chicana, a lesbian, an activist, and a writer, the groundbreaking essays and poems in this volume profoundly challenged how we think about identity. Borderlands/La Frontera remapped our understanding of what a "border" is, seeing it not as a simple divide between here and there, us and them, but as a psychic, social, and cultural terrain that we inhabit, and that inhabits all of us. This twentieth-anniversary edition features new commentaries from prominent activists, artists, and teachers on the legacy of Gloria Anzaldúa's visionary work."

"This most influential book explores, performs, and exhibits the experience of living simultaneously in two places, cultures, languages, realities at once. Probing autobiographically into the mystical perceptions, strategic possibilities, sexual pleasures, and gender displacements of being a lesbian chicana or border person living and working in the anglo culture of the modern United States, Anzaldua brings assumptions about the rigidity of sex, gender, language, fiction, and identity into question. Mixing lyric and prose, myth and autobiography, spanish and english, past and present, Anzaldua crafts a collage which invites its reader to experience the clash of cultures, the uncertainty of position, and the wealth of alternative border people must contend with to live their lives. Because Borderlands undertakes an examination of a position which seems to undercut or defy most of the binaries - gender, race, class - of modern Western culture, its figure of the borderland was adopted by many feminist critics in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a way to bring such binaries into question and offer a site from which to begin to think a world differently organized." - Judith Roof

"One of the 100 Best Books of the Twentieth Century" - Hungry Mind Review

"Anzaldúa's voyage of discovery, focused on the border and the new mestiza, is a preparation for the future. The border is a bundle of contradictions and ambiguities... This hybrid crossroads is just the right kind of training ground. It is fertile area for mutations and transformations. In Borderlands/ La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldúa is our guide with an all-encompassing vision to charge the border with meaning." - The Americas Review

"[She] explores in prose and poetry the murky, precarious existence of those living on the frontier between cultures and languages... she meditates on the conditions of Chicanos in Anglo culture, women in Hispanic culture, and lesbians in the straight world...a powerful document." - Library Journal

"In a radical genre she calls autohistoria, which offers an innovative way to write history, Gloria Anzaldua presents a non-linear history of both the geographical and psychological landscapes of Borderlands. Anzulda’s autohistoria is a genre of mixed media—personal narrative, testimonio, factual accounts, cuento, and poetry—that refutes stasis just as the Borderlands from which Anzaldua comes. According to Anzaldua, the Border is a “third country” whose history as been told on Anglocentric terms, which she attempts to disrupt through feminist analysis and issues. As one of many subaltern Indian women of the Americas working hard to overcome the traditions of silence, Anzaludua attempts to recover the female historical presence by restorying Border history and rewriting the stories of Malinali, la Llorona and the Virgen de Guadalupe. As Sonia Saldivar-Hull writes in the introduction to La Frontera, Anzaldua’s recovery project “leads to the political, feminist, social awareness Anzaldua calls New Mestiza Consiousness”. As Anzaldua explains it, this consciousness entails a “shift out of habitual formations: form convergent thnking, analytical reasoning that tends to use rationality to move toward a single goal (a Western mode), to divergent thinking, characterized by movement away from set patterns and goals toward a more whole perspective, on ethat includes rather than excludes”.
Anzaluda’s multilingual methodology invokes what Mignolo calls “border thinking,” which embodies a double consciousness and employing multi-languaging to think from the border and offer a new epistemology. As Anzaldua describes it, border thinking creates a new mythos—“a change in the way we perceive reality, the way we see ourselves, and the ways we behave”. In essence, from the border, Anzaldua is creating another culture altogether, “ a new story to explain the world and our participation in it, a new value system with images and symbols that connect us to each other and to the planet”. The first step in “the Mestiza way” is taking inventory of our own selves that have been constructed by traceless historical processes. Then, we must put history “though a sieve, winnow out the lies, looks at the forces that we as a race, as women, have been part of”. This process causes “conscious ruptures with all oppressive traditions of all cultures and religions. She [then] communicates that rupture, documents the struggle, and reinterprets history, and using new symbols, she shapes new myths”. Deconstruct in order to construct…
Part of this methodology that is so effective is the personal accounts that Anzaldua offers to describe the psyche of those on the border. She explains, for instance, that she bought into Western claims that Indians are incapable of rationale thought and higher consciousness. She admonishes Western intellectual thought for turning Indians into objects of study and making it shameful to speak their own language and trust their own ways of knowing–all of which are at the roots of violence. She explains that ethnic identity is wrapped up in language; thus, those on the border attempt to create a language in which “they can create their own identity to, one capable of communicating the realities and values true to themselves—a language with terms that are neither espanol ni ingles, but both. We speak a patois, a forked tongue, a variation of two language”.
In attempt to explain the psyche of those on the border, Anzaldua explains that many on the border develop la facultad—“the capacity to see in surface phenomena the meaning of deeper realities to see the deep structure below the surface. It is an instant “sensing,” a quick perception arrived at without conscious reasoning. It is an acute awareness mediated by the part of the psyche that does not speak, that communicates in images and symbols which are the faces of feelings, that is behind which feelings reside/hide”.
Anzaldua also explains how important the role of art in Indian ways of life. As she explains, art was not separated from daily life. “The writer, as shape-changer, is a nahual, a shaman”. She deems her own writing as an art—an object, “an assemblage, a montage, a beaded wrok with several leitomotifs and with a central core, now appearing, now disappearing in a crazy dance”. She also considers her “stories” as “acts, encapsulated in time, ‘enacted’ everytime they are spoken aloud or read silently. [She] like[s] to think of them as performances and not as inert and ‘dead’ objects (as the aesthetic of Western culture think of art works). Instead, the work has an identity; it is ‘who’ or a ‘what’ and contains the presences of persons, that is, incarnations of gods or ancestors or natural and cosmic powers. The work manifests the same needs as a person, it needs to be ‘fed,’ la tengo que banar y vestir”.
Anzaldua argues that “western cultures behave differently toward works of art than do tribal cultures”. “Ethnocentricism,” she claims, “is the tyranny of Western aesthetics”. Western culture kills/conquers the power of art; it counts art as a “’dead thing’ separate from nature”. “Lets stop importing Greek myths and the Western Cartesian split point of view,” she argues, “and root ourselves in the mythological soil and soul of this continent. White America has only attended to the body of the earth in order to exploit it, never to succor it or to be nurtured by it. [W]hites could allow themselves t shared and exchange and learn from us in a respectful way”.
She explains the importance of images in Indian ways of knowing: “An image is a bridge between evoked emotion and conscious knowledge; words are the cables that hold up the bridge. Images are more direct, more immediate than words, and closer to the unconscious. Picture language precedes thinking in words; the metaphorical mind precedes analytical consciousness”.
Anzaldua explains that her process of writing entails “picking out images from [her] soul’s eye, fishing forth the right words to recreate the images”. Why is a reimaging of reality in our consciousness so important: “nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads”. –

The US- Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country, a border culture.” This quote is the essence of the book Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldua.
Written in 1987, this autobiographical literary work is half narrative and half poetry. It is about the experience of the author, Gloria Anzaldua, growing up in the Borderlands of Texas and Mexico - physically, culturally, psychologically and spiritually. Anzaldua was a sixth-generation Tejana (Texan of Mexican descent), Chicana (American woman of Mexican descent) and also a Mestiza. Throughout the book, Anzaldua explores many facets of "Mestiza" - of being "caught between" a variety of oppositions such as black/white, gay/straight, right/wrong. Issues of language are also present themes.
Anzaldua spends the first part of the book providing the reader with the history of the Borderlands, to better explain her complex cultural position and experience, which led to the racism and oppression she faced throughout her life. After the invasion of the Spaniards, a new race was formed from the joining of the Indians and the Spanish—the Chicanos. In the 1800s, modern day Texas was still a part of Mexico. Americans went into Texas illegally in great numbers and drove many of the natives out and/or committed horrendous crimes against them. Mexico was forced to wage war on the invaders, resulting in the Battle of the Alamo. According to Anzaldua, this was the beginning of Americans viewing Mexicans as “cowardly and villainous.” Since the Mexicans lost the Battle of the Alamo and that land suddenly became part of the United States, the Mexican people that lived there for their entire lives were instantly foreigners. This increased during the Mexican-American war when the Texas border was pushed south an additional 100 miles. On February 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed to protect the 100,000 Mexicans that were now on the American side. The treaty ensured that the land that these people were living on would still be honored. This was not the case - quite the opposite - and restitution has never been made to this day. This is also the time that the first physical “border” was built between the two countries.
By the time Anzaldua was born in 1942, her family worked as sharecroppers on the Texan/Mexican border and moved around often to find work. Anzaldua’s father finally moved the family to Hargill, Texas, to have some stability for the children to stay in one school. One time, Anzaldua was sent to the corner of the classroom for “talking back” to the Anglo teacher when she was just trying to tell her how to pronounce her name. The teacher told her to “speak American” and if she didn’t like it that she could “go back to Mexico” where she belonged. These experiences set the stage for Anzaldua’s anger and frustration with her cultural position throughout her lifetime.
One of the ways that Anzaldua draws the reader into experiencing these frustrations is through her use of language, as about half of the book is written in Spanish. Anzaldua does this effectively by inserting Spanish words and phrases in seemingly random places. Sometimes it is just a word, other times it is a sentence and a few times this occurs for an entire page, both for the narrative and the poetry sections of the book. A non-Spanish speaking person is able to read and understand the book to a certain degree, but can somewhat understand the frustration that Anzaldua, and others living in the Borderlands must feel each day.
Anzaldua’s use of language also illustrates how someone that is strongly influenced by many cultures has trouble identifying with just one. In the Borderlands, regardless of the exact location, something called a “Border Tongue” usually develops by the people there who live in one country - in this instance the USA - where there is the primary language spoken, but that is not their native language. These people cannot identify with their native language fully either, and a hybrid language or “Border Tongue” emerges. Chicano Spanish was formed from this “Border Tongue,” by those living on the border needing to have a distinct identity between English and Spanish.
Due to the many Borderlands that exist for Anzaldua, she is able to create a term called “The New Mestiza” to describe an individual who is aware of his or her conflicting and meshing identities and uses insights based on his or her experience to challenge the typical binary (black vs white, right vs wrong) thinking. From this, a new word was created called mestizaje, which is a new state of being beyond binary oppositions, especially as it relates to academic writing and discussion. Anzaldua went on to write many other books and literary works on this topic to become a true pioneer in incorporating this kind of cultural understanding into the academic world." - Liz McCormick

"As a Mestiza I have no country, my homeland cast me out; yet all countries are mine because I am every woman’s sister or potential lover. (As a lesbian I have no race, my own people disclaim me; but I am all races because there is the queer of me in all races.) I am cultureless because, as a feminist, I challenge the collective tured because I am participating in the creation of yet another culture, a new story to explain the world and our participation in it, a new value system with images and symbols that connect us to each other and to the planet. Soy un amasamiento, I am an act of kneading, of uniting, and joining that not only has produced both a creature of darkness and a creature of light, but also a creature that questions the definitions of light and dark and gives them new meanings.”
This passage is from Gloria Anzaldua’s article "La Conciencia de la Mestiza: Towards a new Consciousness". Anzaldua is describing the complexity of being a new Mestiza. However, what is a new Mestiza? To understand this passage we first must analyze what this term means. To label yourself as a new Mestiza you are automatically expressing multitudes of races, cultural and ideological terms into this one word. You can think of it as a contradiction within itself. Because as a Mestiza you do not belong to one category but intertwine with a range of others. However, this does not bring absolute acceptance. A Mestiza has indigenous ancestry but also shares current civilization blood and traditions. She is ambiguous and has no actual place she can call home. Like a drifting spirit she spends her time trying to figure out who she is, where she belongs and how she got in this current situation.
Anzaldua is clearly describing herself in this passages she identifies herself as a lesbian, a feminist and a women. I love the sentence in parenthesis because it’s such a great example of one of the many categories a Mestiza can identify with: “As a lesbian I have no race, my own people disclaim me; but I am all races because there is the queer of me in all races.” Just like a lesbian not being accepted by her own people and or other races Mestizas too form an overall race that other women can relate to. Like many other non Latin American places there are plenty of other women that deal with this multicultural conflict.
Also, being a feminist puts even more pressure in this already foggy existence. She is working to develop a new path towards looking at the world. Eliminating sexist oppression and uniting all peoples, forming a new society that has a balanced ideology. Leaving all the negative social roles behind and connecting ourselves to the world. She redefines herself and the surroundings she is in. She is complex but focus in the direction she wants to head.
What I found interesting that Anzaldua used in her passage was the comparison she made with a creature. “I am an act of kneading, of uniting, and joining that not only has produced both a creature of darkness and a creature of light, but also a creature that questions the definitions of light and dark and gives them new meanings.” I believe she used this comparison to highlight that like a creature that is distinct and traditionally not accepted she too, (among other Mestizas) has this complexity that allows her to understands the light (right), the dark (wrong) sides of situations. She makes her own world that permits her to give new meanings to terms and circumstances because she shares a wide range of identities. " -

"I have tried to come up the beginning of this post about Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La frontera with different definitions of a border, but really I think Anzaldúa said it best:
“Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants”.
Borderlands/La frontera is a book that defines these boundaries and that gives a name to the inhabitants of the borderlands, whether it is the people who live on the US/Mexican border, women or lesbians. It is a book that crosses all boundaries of genre and never allows itself to be defined: it is memoir, it is a book of poetry, it is a history book. Most of all it is a demand. It demands that these voices, corralled and silenced by the unnatural boundaries that contain them, are heard and that they are listened to.
Reading Borderlands/La frontera is never easy to read, or frankly, enjoyable. It never was meant to be. It is abrasive and unapologetic as Anzaldúa dissects all of the things that have enraged her, from the racism she encountered in the United States to the misogyny and homophobia of her fellow Mexicans. It begins with a brief history of Texas and the surrounding areas that once belonged to Mexico and were wrongfully taken by the United States in the Mexican-American War.
The point of revealing that history is to contextualize Anzaldúa’s childhood: even as a sixth-generation American (three generations more than me, for example), Anzaldúa and other members of her community were constantly treated as second-class citizens. As a woman, she was treated like a second-class citizen in her own communities. As a lesbian, she was treated even worse, rejected by the other women in her community. It’s an unimaginable amount of mistreatment and discrimination and Borderlands/La frontera puts words to her story and the story of so many others who faced such discrimination.
The following chapters, through a somewhat stream-of-consciousness style, address different aspects of society and culture that have impacted Anzaldúa’s life, from sexism, to questions of race and racism, to sexuality in society. The most fascinating chapter for me was language and language as identity. There is a significant amount of Spanish, and though I know Spanish, this book would not be too difficult to read for someone who does not speak Spanish as long as they used a Spanish/English dictionary once in a while.

“So, if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity – I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself. Until I can accept as legitimate Chicano Texas Spanish, Tex-Mex and all the other languages I speak, I cannot accept the legitimacy of myself. Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish, and as long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me, my tongue will be illegitimate.
I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice: Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent’s tongue – my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.”
The question here is of legitimacy – English is the language that is spoken by the majority of people in the United States. It is the language spoken by our government, though it is not our official language. I believe that if you want to be successful, you should learn English to the best of your ability. I would expect the same of myself if I moved to another country where English was not the language spoken by a majority. Anzaldúa’s point is that she was born in the United States, she is a sixth-generation American. She should not feel ashamed of any of the languages she speaks, whether it is Spanglish, Spanish, English with a chicana accent. She should never have to feel inferior, no one should.
Neither language is more legitimate than the other.
No gender is more legitimate than the other.
No race is more legitimate than any other.
No sexual orientation is more legitimate than the other.
Borderlands/La frontera was written in 1987 and as such there are certain things that have changed for the better since its publication. I don’t think Spanish is seen as an “inferior” language in school’s anymore (though I, as a Spanish major, might be biased in that). I think most people take Spanish in high school now and there are more and more people studying it at the college level every year. Clearly this is a discussion that we still need to be having and this book is one that still must be read, but thankfully we can see some of the changes in society since the late 80s.
I’d like to close with some of Anzaldúa’s final words in the book, because it expertly sums up what this is all about – opening up the forum for discussion. When people ask me why I became a Spanish major, I tell them one of two things. First, I love reading in Spanish. But more importantly, it’s about bridging the gap between cultures. It’s about understanding one another and breaking the prejudices that exist on both sides. It’s about being bigger than the debate, it’s about compassion and it’s about bringing us all together. I mean that very sincerely. We need to have that conversation. In book blogging, the conversation starts with a book cover. It starts with a blog post. Borderlands/La frontera is only one way to begin that discussion and it’s as good a place as any to start.
“Individually, but also as a racial entity, we need to voice our needs. We need to say to white society: We need you to accept the fact that Chicanos are different, to acknowledge your rejection and negation of us. We need you to own the fact that you looked upon us as less than human, that you stole our lands, our personhood, our self-respect. We need you to make public restitution: to s ay that, to compensate for your own sense of defectiveness, you strive for power over us, you erase our history and our experience because it makes you feel guilty – you’d rather forget your brutish acts. To say you’ve split yourself from minority groups, that you disown us, that your dual consciousness splits off parts of yourself, transferring the “negative” parts onto us. (Where there is persecution of minorities, there is shadow projection. Where there is violence and war, there is repression of shadow.) To say that you are afraid of us, that to put distance between us, you wear the mask of contempt. Admit that Mexico is your double, that she exists in the shadow of this country, that we are irrevocably tied to her. Gringo, accept the doppelganger in your psyche. By taking back your collective shadow the intercultural split will heal. And finally, tell us what you need from us.”
You will not like everything that Anzaldúa has to say, she is, without a doubt, not trying to please the reader in any sense. You will possibly be offended by some of what she has to say, but don’t let that stop you from reading. This is an important book and one that everyone should read." - Lu (from
Gloria Anzaldúa, AnaLouise Keating (ed.), Analouise Keating (ed.), Interviews - Entrevistas (Taylor & Francis, 2000)

"A collection of interviews with lesbian Chicana feminist writer Gloria Anzaldúa. Passionate and often shocking, the interviews provide a unique perspective on the life, influences, and work of one of the first openly lesbian Chicana writers, who has played a major role in redefining queer, female, and Chicana identities, as well as in developing inclusionary movements for social justice. Interviews contain explanations of Anzaldúa's concepts of the Borderlands and mestizaje, and her use of the term New Tribalism."

"Gloria E. Anzaldúa, best known for her books Borderlands/La Frontera and This Bridge Called My Back, is one of the foremost feminist thinkers and activists of our time. As one of the first openly lesbian Chicana writers, Anzaldúa has played a major role in redefining queer, female, and Chicano/a identities, and in developing inclusionary movements for social justice.
In this memoir-like collection, Anzaldúa's powerful voice speaks clearly and passionately. She recounts her life, explains many aspects of her thought, and explores the intersections between her writings and postcolonial theory. Each selection deepens our understanding of an important cultural theorist's lifework. The interviews contain clear explanations of Anzaldúa's original concept of the Borderlands and mestizaje and her subsequent revisions of these ideas; her use of the term New Tribalism as a disruptive category that redefines previous ethnocentric forms of nationalism; and what Anzaldúa calls conocimientos— alternate ways of knowing that synthesize reflection with action to create knowledge systems that challenge the status quo.
Highly personal and always rich in insight, these interviews, arranged and introduced by AnaLouise Keating, will not only serve as an accessible introduction to Anzaldúa's groundbreaking body of work, but will also be of significant interest to those already well-versed in her thinking. For readers engaged in postcoloniality, feminist theory, ethnic studies, or queer identity, Interviews/Entrevistas will be a key contemporary document."

Gloria Anzaldúa, The Gloria Anzaldua Reader (Duke University Press, 2009)

"This reader - which provides a representative sample of Anzaldúa's poetry, prose, fiction, and experimental autobiographical writing - demonstrates the breadth and philosophical depth of her work. More than half the material has never before been published. This newly available work offers fresh insights into crucial aspects of Anzaldúa's life and career, including her upbringing, education, teaching experiences, writing practice and aesthetics, lifelong health struggles, and interest in visual art, as well as her theories of disability, multiculturalism, pedagogy, and spiritual activism."

"Keating collects poems, essays, prose and commentaries by Anzaldúa, revealing the public figure—the pathbreaking queer Chicana writer—as well as a sensual and deeply spiritual iconoclast. Anzaldúa’s voice emerges—defiant, mercenary, passionate and unapologetic—as she writes her seminal Borderlands/La frontera while teaching in Vermont, an environment so alien it brought her closer to her roots; as she becomes one of the first to teach Chicano literature to her students; as she compiles the classic feminist anthology This Bridge Called My Back. The book is punctuated by Anzaldúa’s simple drawings, exercises in deconstruction and reconstruction of identity. Her writings capturing her relentless fight to avoid being stereotyped and to empower women of color within and without academia are rich and various, exploring everything from gender, memory and oppression to sex in the afterlife." - Publishers Weekly Gloria E. Anzaldúa, AnaLouise Keating, Analouise Keating, Analouise Keating, eds., This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation (Taylor & Francis, 2002)

"Over twenty years after the ground-breaking anthology This Bridge Called My Back challenged feminists to envision new forms of communities and practices, Gloria E. Anzaldúa and AnaLouise Keating have brought together an ambitious new collection of over eighty original contributions offering a bold new vision of women-of-color consciousness for the twenty-first century.
Through personal narratives, theoretical essays, textual collage, poetry, letters, artwork and fiction, this bridge we call home examines and extends the discussion of issues at the center of the first Bridge such as classism, homophobia, racism, identity politics, and community building, while exploring the additional issues of third wave feminism, Native sovereignty, lesbian pregnancy and mothering, transgendered issues, Arab-American stereotyping, Jewish identities, spiritual activism, and surviving academe. Written by women and men - both 'of color' and 'white,' located inside and outside the United States - and motivated by a desire for social justice, this bridge we call home invites feminists of all colors and genders to develop new forms of transcultural dialogues, practices, and alliances.
Building on and pushing forward the revolutionary call for transformation announced over two decades ago, this bridge we call home, will challenge readers to rethink existing categories and invent new individual and collective identities."

See also:

Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa


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