Born 26 September 1942, Jesus Maria of the Valley, Texas
Daughter of Urbano and Amalia García Anzaldúa
Gloria Anzaldúa , a seventh-generation American, grew up in the Río Grande Valley of South Texas. In the hardship of fieldwork, Anzaldúa found a love and respect for the land and the people who work it. She received her B.A. from Pan American University (1969) and an M.A. in English and Education from the University of Texas at Austin (1972). She has done further study at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Anzaldúa has been a contributing editor of the journal Sinister Wisdom since 1984.
As a working-class Chicana lesbian, Anzaldúa experiences multiple sources of oppression; her writing traces the complex interrelations among them in texts that blend poetry and theory, analysis and visceral engagement, Spanish and English. Besides her collections of essays and poems, Borderlands: La Frontera—The New Mestiza (1987; second edition forthcoming October 1999), Anzaldúa has edited two anthologies of writing by U.S. women of color, both of which commonly appear as required reading on Women's Studies syllabi.
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981), is coedited with Cherríe Moraga. The book grew out of the experiences of women of color active in the women's movement who were politicized by the need to develop a feminist analysis of all structures of domination, including race, class, culture, and sexual practice as well as gender. Besides calling attention to the absence of gender and sexuality in Ethnic Studies research paradigms, Bridge has also played a crucial role in the shift of white feminist theory from an exclusive focus on gender oppression and "sexual difference" to differences among and within women. In "Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers," Anzaldúa writes of the need for women of color to legitimize the voice that emerges from their specific experiences, rather than imitating dominant literary models. "La Prieta" (the dark girl or woman) foreshadows Borderlands in its focus on her relationship to the dark, Indian part of her self and the place of the indigenous in her culture and her sexuality.
In 1990, Anzaldúa edited Making Face/Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creating and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color, intended "to continue where This Bridge Called My Back left off." The first section, "Still Trembles Our Rage in the Face of Racism," contains several earlier pieces, an unfortunate indicator the problems identified in Bridge persist. More recent essays focus on new forms of racism and the appropriation of discourse on difference. Anzaldúa's introduction addresses the continuing marginalization of women of color and the silencing of their voices, and her essay, "En rapport, in Opposition: Cobrando cuentas a las nuestras" contributes to the significant debate on colorism and cross-racial hostility.
The first six essays on Borderlands/La Frontera introduce the concept of mestizaje, or hybridity, and inscribe a serpentine movement through different kinds of mestizaje of races, genders, languages, and the mind/body dichotomy. These mestizajes break down dualisms in the production of a third thing that is neither the one nor the other but something else: the mestiza, Chicano language, the lesbian and gay, the animal soul, the writing that "makes face."
"Homeland" relates the history of the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Problematizing the concept of "home" in the second essay, Anzaldúa records her rebellion against her culture's betrayal of women and rejection of the Indian side of Mexican cultural identity. To remain within the safe boundaries of "home" required the repression of her gender, her dark-skinned self, and her lesbian identity. Paradoxically, she must leave home to find home.
In her next two essays, Anzaldúa formulates her project as self-writing subject: to create a new home, a new mythology, a new mestiza culture, to "fashion my own gods out of my entrails." Firstly, "How to Tame a Wild Tongue" recounts both Anzaldúa's refusal to remain silent and the ways in which her language is not "appropriate" according to dominant norms. The language of the border transgresses the boundaries between Spanish and English, high and low decorum, insider and outsider speech, forming another kind of homeland. Using the Nahuatl notion of writing as creating face, heart, and soul, Anzaldúa elaborates the notion that it is only through the body that the soul can be transformed. In her last essay, Anzaldúa defines "mestiza" or "border" consciousness: not relativism or pluralism, not repositioning of the subject as Other or Different in binary relationship to the Same or Dominant, but rather the "tolerance for contradictions." The new mestiza is the site or point of confluence of conflicting subject positions.
Images in Anzaldúa's poetry in Borderlands show the mestiza consciousness "in the flesh." In "Letting Go," the female subject—part fish, part woman, is produced through the transgression of body's borders. The mestiza survivors of the nuclear holocaust have newly evolved double eyelids that give them the power to "look at the sun with naked eyes" in "No se raje, Chicanita," and the border crossing between the "alien" and the "human" occurs in "Interface."
Up to now Anzaldúa's Borderlands has been her most powerful published work. With minor exceptions, this difficult to classify and quite bold work that uses the metaphor of the borderlands well, has received very favorable reviews by its critics. The text as a whole is rich, quite potent at times, and thought-provoking to the point of posing an intellectual and emotional challenge to the reader, to revise, re-identify with, rethink concepts of race, sexuality and relationships, to better understand language itself, myths and religion, sexuality, ethnicity and cultures. At the same time, it is accessible even if at times the style appears somewhat unpolished from an academic point of view and can use some editing. This is also her particular imaginative rhetoric, her eclectic way of communicating, of writing and crossing the borders of genre, her way of deconstructing cultural systems and visions, giving the us the readers a stronger taste of her authenticity and her perspectives as we connect with her multiple voices documenting her own experiences as: a woman, a Chicana of indigenous and multilingual roots, and as a lesbian writer—all selves struggling and redefining her selves and her roles in an antagonistic culture in a postcolonial era. Her borders, our borders are clearly not just geographic, but are spiritual while ever-present whenever cultures, races, different economic classes and languages inhabit the same environments and come into natural contact.
Anchoring the sense of fragmented identity in the specific historical experience of the borderlands, Anzaldúa's writing makes a crucial contribution to the development of theories of gender, diversity and subjectivity. Her books are read widely and are pretty standard readings in Women's Studies and Chicana/o Studies courses.
Anzaldúa's Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color (Aunt Lute Books, 1990), won the Lambda Literary Best Small Book Press Award. Anzaldúa has also received many other awards and recognitions, such as the NEA Fiction Award, the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award for Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras the 1991 Lesbian Rights Award, and the Sapho Award of Distinction. She was also a Rockefeller Visiting Scholar in 1991 while at the University of Arizona. Today she continues teaching, giving invited lectures, and writing about culture, politics and interconnectedness.
Prietita and the Ghost Woman: Prietita y la Llorona (1986). Friends from the Other Side (also as Friends from the Other Side/Side/Amigos del otro lado, 1993).
Calderón, H., et al., eds., Criticism in the Borderlands, Studies in Chicano Literature, Culture, and Ideology (1991). Garcia, M., and E. McCracken, eds., Rearticulations: The Practice of Chicano Cultural Studies (1994). Gómez Hernández, A., "Gloria Anzaldúa: Enfrentando el desafío" in Cuadernos americanos (1996). González, A., et al., eds., Mujer y literatura mexicana y chicana: Culturas en contacto (1990). Sims, N., ed., Literary Journalism in the Twentieth Century (1990). Trimmer, J., and T. Warnock, eds., Understanding Others: Cultural and Cross-Cultural Studies and the Teaching of Literature (1992).
Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).
Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies (1993). Gender and Society (Sept. 1992). Matrix (May 1988). Third Woman (1989). Trivia (Spring 1989). Women and Language (1989).
UPDATED BY ANA ROCA