Saturday, October 8, 2011

Required Poet: Gloria Anzaldua

Yea! I came through on my promise. Like Lorna Dee Cervantes, I had heard of Gloria Anzaldua but I hadn’t read any of her work. And while I put her under the category of “poet,” her work that we are required to read for the M.A. exam is the first seven chapters of Borderlands/La Frontera. These chapters do include some poetry interspersed throughout the rhetoric, but the majority of the poetry is located in the second half of the book. Also, pictured at the right is the third edition, and the introduction they want us to read is from the second edition. However, the third edition does include the second edition’s introduction, so it all works out.


There is going to be a lot of overlap here with Cervantes. She was a leading scholar in Chicano cultural theory and often also focused on gender and political issues. At the same time, Anzaldua was also at the forefront of Queer theory – queer readings of text and the theorization of queerness itself.

Borderlands/La Frontera focuses primarily on Anzaldua’s life growing up on the Texas/Mexico border and the life-long feelings of social and cultural marginalization that comes with that background.


I suppose I will go ahead and start with the code-switching. If you know Spanish, that will help you a great deal with this book. While the book is predominantly in English, Anzaldua switches to Spanish often; sometimes it happens mid-chapter, other times mid-paragraph, and even mid-sentence. I believe Anzaldua is expressing the duality of her background. However, at one point, she does explain in detail the language that Chicanos speak because of their need to identify themselves as a distinct people, which is in itself a mixture of eight different languages. Two of the languages are English and a variation of English, while the other six are variations of Spanish. Of course, number seven, which is called Tex-Mex, does include English as well. Out of all of these comes the language that Anzaldua is writing in.

Anzaldua also explores the issue of gender and how even within the Chicano culture, women are degraded and looked down upon and seen as lesser people. Anzaldua explores how the dominant male culture sees womanhood as something to almost be afraid of and subdue. In exploring this massively complicated issue, Anzaldua makes what I think is a bold statement when she says she chooses to be a lesbian and love other women. That of course leads into Anzaldua exploring the role of gay men and women in helping this country get past each other’s differences. Again, even within her own Chicano culture, the queer are marginalized and ignored and discriminated against.

Anzaldua expresses a desire for people to no longer allow race to divide them, but instead have everyone confront their own fears and move forward into a society that is helpful instead of hateful. Anzaldua introduced the term mestizaje into the academic world. The “new mestiza” would move past the dominant binary way of thinking about both race and sexuality and be a mix of all cultures and people. I am sure I have completely oversimplified pretty much everything Anzaldua was attempting to explain, but there is a great deal of information here and that was the best way I could find to put it simply in a blog post.

All of these themes express a tension over some kind of border between different types of people. Ultimately, Anzaldua is writing about being proud of every aspect of who you are.


I have probably covered a great deal of what would normally go in this section. In 1981 she co-edited This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color with Cherrie Moraga, which is the next and last writer I will cover for this blog. She often weaves English and Spanish into one language in her work. Interestingly enough, the frustration and annoyance the average reader would feel with this is the exact same frustration and annoyance Anzaldua has felt for most of her life. In 2004, Anzaldua died from complications due to diabetes.

I can’t believe it, but the next post will be my last one that is exclusively about an item on the list, and I lived to tell about it.

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