The Warscapes Retrospective Uncertain Borders: Gloria Anzaldua in Focus commemorates 25 years since the publication of the groundbreaking book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa. A foundational work paving the way for scholarship on Chicana, feminist and LGBT identities, the book is now more than ever a force to be reckoned with, having been targeted by the Tucson Unified School System in Arizona in an attempt to ban Mexican American studies from the public school curriculum. In truth, the book has been dangerous since it was published in 1987 because of its gesture of raw activism.
When Borderlands arrived on the scene, there was hardly any critical thinking about multiculturalism, and as experts on Anzaldúa's work, Norma Élia Cantú & Aída Hurtado, point out: “Anzaldúa’s persistent mixing of cultures, languages, and even writing genres, as exemplified in the structure and content of Borderlands, was blasphemous.” Her notion of the mestiza consciousness elaborates upon the idea of an "outsider within," referring to Mexican immigrants on the border who view both the US and Mexico as their home without being truly accepted in either one. At its core, Borderlands is about oppression and articulating resistance to this oppression. With the recent federal ruling that allows for large chunks of the controversial Arizona immigration law to maintain its “show-me-your-papers” provision, the fate of immigrants remains in a state of violent uncertainty.
Gloria Anzaldúa described herself as a Chicana/Tejana/lesbian/dyke/feminist/writer/poet/cultural theorist, and these identities were just the beginning of the ideas she explored in her work. Born in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas in 1942, her parents were farm workers. During her youth she lived on a ranch, worked in the fields and became intimately aware of the Southwest and South Texas landscapes. She also discovered that Spanish speakers existed on the margins in the United States. She began to experiment with writing and gained an acute awareness of issues of social justice. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Pan American University in 1969 and moved to California to teach feminism, creative writing and Chicana studies. She received a master’s degree from the University of Texas, where she taught a groundbreaking course called “The Mexican-American Woman.” Anzaldúa co-edited This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981), one of the most cited books in feminist theory. Making Face Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color was published in 1990. It included writings by famous feminists such as Audre Lorde and Joy Harjo, again in fragmented sections with titles such as “Still Trembles our Rage in the Face of Racism” and “(De)Colonized Selves." Borderlands is the biographical narrative for which she is best known, named among the 100 best books of the century by The Hungry Mind Review and Utne Reader. Her work is most noted for its mixing of two variations of English and six of Spanish. She refused to write in only one language: “As long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me,” Anzaldúa said, “my tongue will be illegitimate.”
Gloria Anzaldúa was an avid observer of art and spirituality, and brought these influences to her writings as well. She taught throughout her life and worked on a doctoral dissertation, which she was unable to finish due to health complications and professional demands. UC Santa Cruz later awarded her a posthumous PhD in literature. She won many awards, including the National Endowment for the Arts Fiction Award and the Lambda Lesbian Small Press Book Award. She died in 2004 from complications related to diabetes.
This Retrospective features a range of heartfelt responses to Borderlands/La Frontera. Sarah Lippek’s indignant essay takes on the controversial category of “whiteness” to examine the racially complicated terrain of the past two decades that has enabled the draconian anti-immigration discourse in the US that has led to the exclusion of Anzaldúa’s work and others that followed. Veruska Cantelli’s piece explores Anzaldúa's ability to cross boundaries to question identity, history, gender, language, sexuality and the very space one calls community. Joshunda Sanders writes of the personal impact Borderlands has had on her education, and subsequently in fashioning her own persona as a woman of color sharing "in the mestiza identity that Anzaldúa wrote about all her life…” Visual artist Cecilia Concepcíon Alvarez's quest into the mujer chicana leads us deep into the complexity of the relationship between gender and dominance, and towards an alternate look at traditional imagery.
We hope you enjoy it. -Veruska Cantelli & Bhakti Shringarpure