Gloria Anzald˙a, a self-described "chicana dyke-feminist,
tejana patlache poet, writer, and cultural theorist," was born to
sharecropper/field-worker parents on September 26th, 1942 in South Texas
Rio Grande Valley. After relocating at age 11 to the city of Hargill,
Texas, on the border of the United States and Mexico, she entered the
fields to work.
With her parents and siblings, Anzald˙a worked as a
migrant worker for a year in Arkansas. Realizing this lifestyle would not
benefit his children's education, Anzald˙a's father decided to keep his
family in Hargill, where he died when Anzald˙a was 14. His death meant
that Anzald˙a was obligated financially to continue working the family
fields throughout high school and college, while also making time for her
reading, writing, and drawing.
In 1969 Anzald˙a received her B.A. in English, Art, and
Secondary Education from Pan American University. She then earned an M.A.
in English and Education from the University of Texas. As a teacher,
Anzald˙a has instructed a wide variety of students. She first taught in a
bilingual preschool program, then in a Special Education program for
mentally and emotionally handicapped students. Later she worked in college
classrooms to educate others about Feminism, Chicano Studies, and Creative
Writing at a number of Universities including: University of Texas at
Austin, Vermont College of Norwich University, and San Francisco State
Anzald˙a has won numerous awards for her works, such as
the Lambda Lesbian Small Book Press Award for Haciendo Cara, an NEA
Fiction Award, the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award for
This Bridge Called My Back, and the Sappho Award of Distinction. In
addition, her text Borderlands was selected by the Literary Journal
as one of the 38 Best Books of 1987. Borderlands examines the
condition of women in Chicano and Latino culture, Chicanos in white
American society, and lesbians in the straight world. Through a
combination of history and personal narrative, Anzald˙a allows the reader
both a close-up and distanced view into a life of alienation and isolation
as a prisoner in the borderlands between cultures.
Structurally the book is divided in half by essay and
poetry. The first section is a personal narrative in which Anzald˙a
questions every cultural aspect, from religion to sexuality and
immigration issues. But the recurring focus of Anzald˙a's essays revolves
around language, anger, and immersion of the reader into her world.
Anzald˙a uses a unique blend of eight languages, two
variations of English and six of Spanish. In many ways, by writing in "Spanglish,"
Anzald˙a creates a daunting task for the non-bilingual reader to decipher
the full meaning of the text. However there is irony in the mainstream
reader's feeling of frustration and irritation. These are the very
emotions Anzald˙a has dealt with throughout her life, as she has struggled
to communicate in a country where non-English speakers are shunned and
punished. Language, clearly one of the borders Anzald˙a is addressing, is
an essential feature to her writing as her entire book is dedicated to
being proud of one's heritage and recognition of the many dimensions of
One undeniable aspect of Anzald˙a's essays important to
address is her anger and rage. Anzald˙a uses Borderlands as an
outlet for "venting her anger on all oppressors of people who are
culturally or sexually different" (Fletcher, 171). For example, in
Borderlands, Anzald˙a writes:
Not me sold out my people but they me. Malinali Tenepat,
or Malintzin, has become known as la Chingada - the fucked one. She has
become the bad word that passes a dozen times a day from the lips of
Chicanos. Whore, prostitute, the woman who sold out her people to the
Spaniards are epithets Chicanos spit out with contempt (44).
While this anger is justified, some critics feel her
writing suffers as a result of what they perceive to be overtly strong
emotions. Anzald˙a's passion for these issues is obviously the fuel for
her writings, and some readers may find she digresses into long fiery
lectures rather than relying strictly on insight.
Anzald˙a's writing consistently has an element of
spirituality and she adds a mystical nature to the very process of writing.
To Anzald˙a, writing is not an action, but a form of channeling voices and
stories, and its power is attributed to a female deity. She writes of her
spirituality in an interview in Borderlands:
My spirituality I call spiritual mestizaje, so I think my
philosophy is like philosophical mestizaje where I take from all different
cultures -- for instance, from the cultures of Latin America, the people
of color and also the Europeans (238).
In the poetry section Anzald˙a treats the reader to a
world full of sensory images, pain, and discovery. Anzald˙a's poetry is
bolder and more unapologetic than her prose, and considerably easier to
read than the first half. It is unclear whether Anzald˙a is writing from
memories, and unlike her earlier essays where her voice is omnipresent;
the character voice occasionally shifts to third person. Nevertheless, the
power in her writing is not lost. It is impossible not to feel the
overwhelming heat described in "sus plummas el viento," or to picture the
wrinkles of her grandmother's face in "Immaculate, Invilate: Como Ella."
Even more challenging is to read "Cervicide," the story of a young girl
forced to kill her pet fawn, without grimacing. Indeed, Anzald˙a's poems
often depict images of violence and destruction some readers might find
painful to read.
Despite many of the obstacles a reader may face while
reading Borderlands, the book is a wonderful illustration of
American and Latino cultural differences. Both halves of the text work
well together to present a complexly accurate account of Chicana culture.
"This book speaks to the resilience of resistance to cultural domination
among women" (Gender and Society, 520).
Through the use of beautifully poetic wording, Anzald˙a
effectively takes the reader into her world of estrangement from every
culture she could possibly "belong" to. Borderlands is a reality check to
all readers, of every race, on cultural barriers and introspection to find
one's true identity. Most of all, Anzald˙a insists that while these
borders are abstract, they should never be implemented into the soul.
Works by the Author
|Barnard, Ian. "Gloria Anzald˙a's Queer Mestisaje." MELUS: The
Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of
the United States 22 (1997) : 35-53. |
|Blom, Gerdien. "Divine Individuals, Cultural Identities: Post-Identitarian
Representations and Two Chicana/o Texts." Thamyris: Mythmaking from
Past to Present 4 (1997) : 295-324. |
|Branche, Jerome. "Anzald˙a: El ser y la nacion." Entorno 34
(1995) 39-44. |
|Concannon, Kevin. "The Contemporary Space of the Border: Gloria
Anzald˙a's Borderlands and William Gibson's Neuromancer." Textual
Practice 12 (1198) 429-42. |
|Dizon, Terrell. "Forum on Literatures of the Environment." PMLA
114 (1999) 1903-4. |
|Fowlkes, Diane. "Moving From Feminist Identity Politics to Coalition
Politics Through a Feminist Materialist Standpoint of Intersubjectivity
in Gloria Anzald˙a's Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza."
Hypatia 12 (1997): 105-24. |
|Gagnier, Regenia. "Review Essay: Feminist Autobiography in the
1980's." Feminist Studies 17 (1991) : 135-139. |
|Hall, Lynda. "Writing Selves Home at the Crossroads: Anzald˙a and
Chrystos (re) Configure Lesbian Bodies." Ariel 30 (1999) : 99-117
|Hedley, Jane. "Nepantilist Poetics: Narrative and Cultural Identity
in the Mixed-Language Writings of Irena Klepfisz and Gloria Anzald˙a."
Narrative 4 (1996) : 36-54. |
|Keating, AnnLouise. "Myth Smashers, Myth Makers: (Re) Visionary
Techniques in the Works of Paula Gunn Allen, Gloria Anzald˙a, and Audre
Lorde." Journal of Homosexuality 26 (1993) : 73-88. |
|---. Women Reading Women Writing: Self-Invention in Paula Gunn
Allen, Gloria Anzald˙a and Audre Lorde. Philadelphia: Temple
University Press, 1996. |
|---. "Writing Politics, and las Lesberadas: Platicando con Gloria
Anzald˙a." Frontiers 14 (1993) : 105-129. |
|Lomeli, Francisco and Carl Shirley, eds. Dictionary of Literary
Biography, Chicano Writers. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. |
|Lugones, Maria. "On Borderlands/La Frontera: An Interpretive Essay."
Hypatia 7 (1992) : 31-37. |
|Murphy, Patrick. "Grandmother Borderland: Placing Identity and
Ethnicity." Isle: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and
Environment 1 (1993) : 35-41. |
|Ramos, Juanita. "Gloria E. Anzald˙a." Contemporary Lesbian
Writers of the United States: a bio-bibliographical sourcebook. Eds.
Sandra Pollack and Denise D. Knight. Westport: Greenwood Press,1993.
|Wright, Melissa. "Maquiladora Mestizas and a Feminist Border
Politics: Revisiting Anzald˙a." Hypatia 13 (1998) : 114-31. |
|Yarbro-Bejarano, Yvonne. "Gloria Anzald˙a's Borderlands/La Frontera:
Cultural Studies, 'Difference,' and the Non-Unitary Subject."
Cultural Critique. 28 (1994) : 5-28. |