Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2004) is one of the most influential Chicana feminist thinkers of the twentieth century. Her visionary writing is key to the development of lesbian/queer theory and for theorizing writing by women of color.
Once a member of the Feminist Writers Guild, Anzaldúa’s groundbreaking book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, published in 1987, rocked Women & Gender Studies, as well as Chicano Studies, as it introduced the concept of “mestiza consciousness” through a weaving of English and Spanish.
The new mestizas for Anzaldúa, are people “who inhabit multiple worlds because of their gender, sexuality, color, class, bodies, personality, spiritual beliefs and/or life experiences” (Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark). “Mestiza,” in Anzaldua’s thought, represents an expansion of biologically-based definitions of mestizaje, or mixture.
Watch: Anzaldúa Documentary (2012)
Mestiza consciousness is a “way of thinking and acting that includes a transformational tolerance for contradiction and ambivalence.”
The genre of “autohistoria,” a term Anzaldúa coined in Borderlands/La Frontera, enriched mainstream feminist’s perspective by expressing the realities of those enduring the legacies of U.S. expansionism and colonial thought: those living between two or more cultures, languages, processes of racialization, sexualities. Through an intimate “autohistoria” of the body, Anzaldúa challenged the heteropatriarchal violence of Chicano cultural nationalism and U.S. nativism. Her book helped initiate the field of Chicana Studies.
The form of her book, a carefully crafted bilingual mashup of theoretical essay and poetry, does not merely theorize the aesethics of mestiza consciousness—it embodies that consciousness. Borderlands/La Frontera is a courageous book that moves personal and collective historical, psychic and sexual trauma towards the goal of healing.
Though Anzaldúa died in 2004 due to complications from diabetes, her influence has only grown. Her follow up to This Bridge Called My Back: Radical Writings by Women of Color edited with Cherrie Moraga (1983), and This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation, edited Anna Lousie Keating (2002), which furthers explores spiritual activism and coalition building, is titled Light in the Dark/Luz en Lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality and was published posthumously in 2015.
The Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, 1942-2004 are held at the Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin.
Image credit: Melanie Cervantes Tumbling Down the Steps of the Temple (2012)
Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987)
Gloria Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark/Luz en Lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality (2015)
Norma Cantu, Christina L. Gutierrez, Norma Alarcón and Rita E. Urquijo-Ruiz, eds, El Mundo Zurdo: Selected Works from the Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa 2007 to 2009 (2010).