Gloria Anzald˙a
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U.S. Latino/a Literature                                      -                               Puerto Rican Literature in the United States

 

BIOGRAPHY - CRITICISM

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 University.

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 her culture.

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.


 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Works by the Author

BOOKS

bullet Interviews/Entrevistas (2000) 
bulletLa Prieta (1997)
bulletBorderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987)

CHILDREN'S BOOKS

bulletPrietita and the Ghost Woman / Prietita y La Llorona (1996)
bulletFriends from the Other Side / Amigos del otra lado (1993)
bulletPrietita Has a Friend / Prietita tiene un Amigo (1991)

OTHER PUBLICATIONS

bulletLloronas, Women Who Howl: Autohistorias-Torias and the Production of Writing, Knowledge, and Identity. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1996.
bulletwith Moraga, Cherrie, eds. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. Massachussets: Persephone Press, 1981.
bulletMaking Face, Making Soul/Hacieno Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1990.
bulletCassell's Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Lore. London, Herdon, VA :Cassell Academic, 1998.
bulletwith Keating, AnaLouise, eds. Interviews/Entrevistas. New York: Routledge, June 2000.

Works about the Author

bulletBarnard, 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.
bulletBlom, Gerdien. "Divine Individuals, Cultural Identities: Post-Identitarian Representations and Two Chicana/o Texts." Thamyris: Mythmaking from Past to Present 4 (1997) : 295-324.
bulletBranche, Jerome. "Anzald˙a: El ser y la nacion." Entorno 34 (1995) 39-44.
bulletConcannon, Kevin. "The Contemporary Space of the Border: Gloria Anzald˙a's Borderlands and William Gibson's Neuromancer." Textual Practice 12 (1198) 429-42.
bulletDizon, Terrell. "Forum on Literatures of the Environment." PMLA 114 (1999) 1903-4.
bulletFowlkes, 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.
bulletGagnier, Regenia. "Review Essay: Feminist Autobiography in the 1980's." Feminist Studies 17 (1991) : 135-139.
bulletHall, Lynda. "Writing Selves Home at the Crossroads: Anzald˙a and Chrystos (re) Configure Lesbian Bodies." Ariel 30 (1999) : 99-117
bulletHedley, Jane. "Nepantilist Poetics: Narrative and Cultural Identity in the Mixed-Language Writings of Irena Klepfisz and Gloria Anzald˙a." Narrative 4 (1996) : 36-54.
bulletKeating, 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.
bullet---. Women Reading Women Writing: Self-Invention in Paula Gunn Allen, Gloria Anzald˙a and Audre Lorde. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.
bullet---. "Writing Politics, and las Lesberadas: Platicando con Gloria Anzald˙a." Frontiers 14 (1993) : 105-129.
bulletLomeli, Francisco and Carl Shirley, eds. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Chicano Writers. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.
bulletLugones, Maria. "On Borderlands/La Frontera: An Interpretive Essay." Hypatia 7 (1992) : 31-37.
bulletMurphy, Patrick. "Grandmother Borderland: Placing Identity and Ethnicity." Isle: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 1 (1993) : 35-41.
bulletRamos, 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. 19-25.)
bulletWright, Melissa. "Maquiladora Mestizas and a Feminist Border Politics: Revisiting Anzald˙a." Hypatia 13 (1998) : 114-31.
bulletYarbro-Bejarano, Yvonne. "Gloria Anzald˙a's Borderlands/La Frontera: Cultural Studies, 'Difference,' and the Non-Unitary Subject." Cultural Critique. 28 (1994) : 5-28.


 

RELATED LINKS

Making Face, Making Soul...A Chicana Feminist homepage
This site has information on Borderlands/La Frontera and other writings from Chicana writers, and general information on Chinaca issues.

CreativeQuotations.com
This site has "creative quotes" from Gloria Anzald˙a's work.

Aunt Lute Books
In this site there are short excerpts from book reviews of Borderlands/La Frontera.

Worlds of Thought
This site has a picture and a bio on Anzald˙a.

Indiana University GLBT Student Support Services Library
"Borderlands/La Frontera. The New Mestiza" a review by Judith Roof. April 30, 1998. A brief review of Borderlands that could be useful for exploring other literary criticism.

(From Voices from the Gap)

 

 

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ę Antonia DomÝnguez Miguela. Site last updated: 14 October 2004