Borderlands, A Feminist Concept

coatlicue_nuestra_madreSoon after Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza was published (1987), the notion of ‘borderlands’ began to gain currency as key feminist theoretical concept with import across disciplines in the U.S. and beyond. It has indeed been recognized as the most important concept that the field of Latina/o Studies has contributed to cultural studies in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. ‘Borderlands’ is also a fundamental term in the conceptualization of marginalized identities and of agency in today’s transnational feminism.

Anzaldúa’s own writing suggested the symbolic, far-reaching dimensions of the term. While re-thinking Atzlán -the legitimate homeland of the “Chicano/a nation” -, she conceptualized a space of belonging defined by the border itself, a painful physical space “where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds” (25). This liminal, hostile region constitutes for her “a third country” (33), understood as both a geopolitical and a psychic space.

Watch:  Boderlands/LaFrontera (ThirdWorldspace, 2008)

This ‘borderlands’ is the symbolic and social location the marginalized, the abject, the undesirable, the residual, of, in Anzaldúa’s words, “los atravesados […] the squint-eyed, the perverse, the half-breed, the half dead” live (25). It is likewise the home of the feminist, queer, racialized identity that she proposes: the new mestiza, who, from her eccentric psychic and social location, can undo historically accepted binaries and struggles for the “massive uprooting of dualistic thinking” (102).

Watch:  Gloria Anzaldua  (Equalityforum, 2012)

Anzaldúa provided, then, two theoretical frameworks, which questioned and reinvigorated American feminism. She named the material and social conditions of queer women of color, intercultural, interracial and other identities living uncomfortably in between and among worlds, in the marginal and undesired frictional spaces of national, cultural, and economic systems, bringing thus the margins to the center. In addition, Anzaldúa’s proposal of the new mestiza identity helped generate new intersectional epistemologies and new visions of agency in feminist theory. Her vision stressed the need to map the potential for transgressive identities and practices occurring liminal spaces, including the margins of U.S. white feminism.

The critical and liberatory potential of the borderlands metaphor and its related identities was first influential in Chicana (lesbian) U.S. Third World feminism as it crafted a the language to adequately critique hegemonic feminist theories in the 1980s. In the 1990s and in the 21st century, anticolonial and feminist theorists such as Chela Sandoval, Chandra T. Mohanty, Walter Mignolo or María Lugones, have continued to utilize the borderlands as a framework to refer to interconnected, oppositional and feminist methodologies and theories. ‘Borderlands’ is a key term today in the analysis of liminal spaces and practices of transgression in the interconnected local and the global contexts, especially in Third World, transnational, and women of color feminism.


Gloria E. Anzaldúa,  Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1999)

Chandra T. Mohanty,  Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (2003)

Moraga, Cherríe and Gloria E. Anzaldúa, ed. This Bridge Called My Back. Writings by Radical Women of Color (2002)

Roman-Odio, Clara and Marta Sierra, eds. Transnational Borderlands in Women’s Global Networks: The Making of Cultural Resistance (2011)