This is the fourth post in my Women's History Month series, Legendary Latinas, in which I highlight the lives and accomplishments of influential Latinas. You can find the other posts here. Please read the disclaimer if you have questions about my sources; otherwise, ENJOY!

From the moment I began reading Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, I knew I was going to love Gloria Anzaldúa. You do not need to be Chicana or even Latina to appreciate her work. It's like she could see what was in our souls. She pulled it out, examined it, played with it, and blew it back in, writing its truth in a way so very real to me. It may sound like I'm being overly dramatic, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way.

"What we say and what we do ultimately comes back to us so let us own our responsibility, place it in our hands, and carry it with dignity and strength."

Gloria Anzaldúa was born in Texas in 1942 to a 16-year-old mother, and grew up living and working on a ranch settlement. Despite her parents not having completed a high school education, she successfully completed college and graduate school. As an adult, she was as an integral member of the community, and worked as a teacher for some time before pursuing her writing professionally.

The bulk of Anzaldúa's work was about intersectionality. Her identities as woman, Chicana/Mexican-American, lesbian, Spanish-speaker, English-speaker, spiritual person, and feminist all come together as a focal point in her works. Her goal was to show that these identities cannot be separated and instead build on each other.

Best known for being co-editor of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings of Radical Women of Color along with Cherríe Moraga, and her book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Anzaldua also wrote poetry and children's literature.

"By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and anger..."

This Bridge Called My Back is a volume by women of color intended to broaden the definition of feminism and the scope of feminist work. Anzaldúa came up with the idea when she was told by her professors and mentors that women's studies and Chicana lit were not realistic fields of study. She worked with Moraga to pull together the stories of women like Audre Lorde and Ana Castillo. These women had a lot to say and were finally given a platform to speak up together as a single, powerful voice representing various identities.

Anzaldúa went on to elaborate on themes she introduced with her pieces in This Bridge Called My Back with her own manifesto, Borderlands/La Frontera. The book discussed how Chicanas live their life on the borderlands -- culturally, geographically, mentally, and spiritually. She used this as a seed to develop her thoughts on intersectionality, culture, identity, and allegiance, among other things.

"They'd like to think I have melted in the pot. But I haven't. We haven't."

Borderlands is a very important book for me, and I was introduced to it when I was solidifying my feminist lens and considering the role culture played in my everyday life.

As a Dominican immigrant, there have been many times in my life where I've felt I was living different lives in different worlds. At home, I had to be quiet, demure, respectful, and could speak only in Spanish. Outside, I was somehow expected to stand up for myself, and would get put on the spot if my English was not perfect. So even though I couldn't identify with every detail Anzaldúa brought up, the idea of living on the borderlands resonated very much with me.

The thing that's particularly important about her work is that she didn't simply describe the struggles of living on the borderlands - literally or figuratively - but pushed it further. She emphasized the strength that comes from the flexibility of living in these worlds. Furthermore, she believed the flexibility, diversity, and multiple identities is what can help people relate to each other. She also expressed an honest anger that fueled her and pushed her work forward. Rather than fearing the "angry WOC" label, she met this label head on and did not diminish the importance of her feelings. She was the first person I was exposed to who presented this vision, and though she would certainly not be the last, it had a lasting impression on me.

"The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react."

In a world where marginalized women are often silenced, Anzaldúa was able to create space for herself as a lesbian, feminist, and Chicana living in the U.S. She did not bite her tongue or hold back, but came out full force -- in English and in Spanish. She spoke up at a time when the Latina voice was really needed, and her words will continue to ring as true in the future as they do now and did then.

Anzaldúa's work inspires me to believe in the power of my own words and my own voice. I can't think of something more I need in my life, and the lives of so many Latinas I know. May she inspire you to make your words come alive.

"I am playing with my Self, I am playing with the world's soul, I am the dialogue between my Self and el espiritu del mundo. I change myself, I change the world."

For more about Gloria Anzaldúa's life and words, you should check out:
Gloria Anzaldua Bio
Interview with Gloria Anzaldua
Gloria Anzaldua Quotes
Lesson Plan for Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza


At Fri Mar 20, 06:09:00 AM Anonymous said...

Another excellent choice. She is positively inspiring and has helped WOC to understand that though society has chosen to devalue our experiences we are indeed worthy of being recognized.

At Fri Mar 20, 07:31:00 AM Allison McCarthy said...

I love Gloria! I finished "Borderlands/La Frontera" at the end of 2008 and I'm waiting for "This Bridge Called My Back" to come in the mail. I really liked the interview you linked to in this post -- wonderful reading!!

At Fri Mar 20, 06:44:00 PM T. R Xands said...

I totally need to finish La Frontera. I have an excerpt from it in my Heath anthology and I was so intrigued it wasn't fair. Boo! We talked about her briefly in my women's studies but we didn't go in depth *sad face* thank you for this post!


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