Happy birthday, Gloria Anzaldúa! While the queer Chicana feminist, who would have turned 74 years old today, is no longer with us, her work as a theorist, writer and activist continues to impact generations of Latinas living on the borderlands, both geo-politically and metaphorically.
Anzaldúa taught us that we are multidimensional, in a constant state of becoming, and, despite dominant culture’s obsession with placing people in fixed, binary boxes, our plurality, and its intersections, makes us whole and gives us la facultad, a perspective and power that’s all our own.
Here, Latinxs of various ages, cultures and histories of migration celebrate Anzaldúa by discussing how the theorist helped them navigate their own “borderlands.”
Barbara A. Sostaita, Durham, North Carolina
I discovered Anzaldúa's work when I was a junior in college. At the time, I was struggling to come to terms with my place in the world and in the academy. Was I too brown to survive in such a white-dominated world? Was I too mestiza, too much of a crossbreed, to fit inside disciplinary borders and boxes? Was I too much of an insider to be a "good" scholar? When I found “Borderlands,” I suddenly found the vocabulary and the ideas I so desperately needed to answer these questions.
Anzaldúa taught me that living in multiple worlds is not an impairment but a possibility. Because of my multiple identities, I have a unique perspective on the world, la facultad, which allows me to see what others cannot, what lies in the dark, what is hidden just beneath the surface. Because of “Borderlands,” I pursued the PhD degree Anzaldúa was only granted posthumously. Because of “Borderlands,” I am now in a graduate program where I refuse to tame my wild tongue. Because of “Borderlands,” I wake up every day determined to affirm my multiple identities and preserve my mestiza consciousness. Because Gloria inhabited an often hostile academic world and made it work for her – and her communities – I do the same. Because of her, I fight to break down borders, too.
Ariana Rodriguez Zertuche, Los Angeles, California
I found belonging in “Borderlands.” I found an explanation for why someone like me, a queer, mexicana-peruana living in Los Angeles, didn’t feel like she had a home anywhere. I’ve always felt too queer for my family, too Peruvian for my Mexican/Xicanx side and too gringa for my Peruvian side. I never felt enough. It wasn’t until reading “Borderlands,” and other works by U.S. third world feminists, that I was able to manifest my authentic self: a Nepantlera living in the borderlands of identities. My identities cannot be essentialized, categorized or watered down. I am too powerful and abundant to be contained in a singular identity. Being a Nepantlera means I am whole. I am enough. I learned to come home to myself.
Cinthya Rodriguez, Chicago, Illinois
I became a Xicana during my junior year of high school. It was when I read Anzaldúa, and other women of color feminists, in my Latina/o literature class. Anzaldúa, alongside Cherrie Moraga and Ana Castillo, showed me, and the rest of my class, that I could identify politically as Xicana, that even in the middle of Chicago, on lands that are not ancestral to me, with winters so harsh you can forget about the rest of the world, I had a herstory from which to learn from and grow. I had my own legitimate struggle on my own borderlands. Anzaldúa politicized and concienticized me. Having been introduced to Anzaldúa during that time has made a difference in my life, and I believe people even younger than I was then can and should work through her work. Feliz Cumpleaños and rest in power. Thank you grande, Gloria Anzaldúa.
Bianca Moran, Los Angeles, California
I first encountered “Borderlands/La Frontera” during my freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley. The book was assigned to me in an ethnic studies course, but its impact, both profound and formative, extended beyond that class. I remember feeling hope, like I had met a kindred spirit. Someone finally understood! It wasn't that my life mirrored Anzaldúa’s experiences, but she somehow adequately expressed the internal struggle that I was just beginning to understand. I had no words, no way to articulate what was happening to my psyche. She is so fundamental to the blueprint of my intellectual framework. She made it OK to be multi-dimensional, to embrace the interplay of the worlds in which we belong. She made it easier to understand myself. I am forever grateful for her work.
Maria P. Chaves, Miami, Florida
“Borderlands/La Frontera” was the first time I recognized that poetry was just as important as theory. I never liked reading because it was difficult. I now realize part of the reason it was difficult was because my thoughts were in Spanish, and I had to simultaneously translate what I read. But Anzaldúa’s work was written in the same way my brain worked, and this was a saving grace. Her writing in Spanish and English drew me in, and the information about the U.S. Southwest was an opening history lesson in poetic language. I recognized the women she spoke of. They were me and I was them. Suddenly, woman had become not any and all women. She was specific. She was Chicana. She was Mexican. She was Pocha. She was lesbian. She was defiant. She was a survivor, a warrior and a goddess. I firmly believe Gloria E. Anzaldúa had everything to do with my desire to become a professor and go to graduate school. On this day, her birthday, I am grateful for her life and her work. She sits on my altar, next to my ancestors, and I will light a candle in her honor.
Ariana Barreto, Chicago, Illinois
Anzaldúa's “Borderlands” revolutionized my life. I've always felt "too Mexican" or "too Boricua" in the United States, but when I went to visit family, I was "muy americana." My Spanish was broken and my salsa steps were from Chicago. This book revived my tender and tired heart after so many years of not belonging. Even more, as a queer Latinx person, I know that my identity defies any archetype or narrative. Thanks for Anzaldúa, I do not live in spite of what my ancestors or peers categorize me as, but in celebration of everything I am and can become.
Michelle Marie Robles Wallace, San Francisco, California
I am not from the geo-political borderlands but rather the metaphoric borderlands. I am mixed, half-white and half-Mexican, and grew up in Northern California. I didn't know anyone else who was mixed when I was growing up, and, though my area has a huge Latinx and especially Mexican population, I didn't know Spanish then, and I allowed that (and white expectations of what knowledge I needed to have in order to identify as Mexican-American) to keep me from trying to learn more about my culture. At the same time, I didn't feel comfortable claiming my white side, in part because I felt like if I had to deny one part of me, I had to deny the other and, in part, because people constantly asked me: what are you? Where are you from? I didn't read Anzaldúa until I was in grad school, and, when I did, I recognized myself in her work and gave myself permission to own who I am and where I come from. “Borderlands” "wholed" me. Since then, I've been able to dive into an exploration of the geo-political and the metaphoric borderlands, including writing an award-winning book and an upcoming reading series.
Elizabeth Cano, Woodland Park, New Jersey
I read Anzaldúa’s “Borderlands” as a student at Cornell University, and she changed so much about the way I viewed myself as a Colombian immigrant and the first in my family to attend college. She validated my feelings of living in a constant pendulum between my roots and my ancestral pride and assimilating to a new country that my parents fought so hard to bring me to for better opportunities.
Brenda W M Hernandez, Boston, Massachusetts
Anzaldúa changed my life. “Borderlands,” which I read in a women’s studies course my sophomore year of college, spoke to me in a way no other feminist text had before. The concept of living on the borders was such an “AHA” moment for me. It was exactly what I had always felt. I grew up in a predominantly white town but in a people of color-majority housing complex and, due to my nerdy interests, I never felt Latina enough for my peers but also not white. I was brought up to feel so much Boricua pride and yet had never actually lived in Puerto Rico. Anzaldúa’s work described all of these feelings. It was also the first feminist text in Spanglish, which is how my family and I speak, so it felt like coming home. This book, and Gloria's work, solidified my feminism.
Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, Oakland, California
I read "Borderlands" in the early 2000s, when I was in graduate school. It became the source of understanding my own journey of migrating from Texas to the Midwest (and later beyond to the West and becoming nomadic), my own gender journey in becoming a non-binary transgender person, my becoming a Latinx, and eventually my own becoming entrenched in the scholarship of my heart, which I call “philosophy-poetry.” This book impacted me as I struggled to make sense of all the varying intersections and borders that I was enfleshing and also transgressing, almost always simultaneously. As a theologian, Anzaldúa’s “theology” or spirituality of spirit being in all things (or ensouled, as she called it) helped me think of my own complicated borderland identity as one that is sacred, perhaps even unified with that which is divine. Anzaldúa’s scholarship, particularly her theory of borderlands, has been food for my wandering nomadic journey. I continue to experience the profound gift of her work as I continue to lean in to the multiplying realities of living as a person enfleshing many borderlands.
Ileana Chavez, Los Angeles, California
"Borderlands" resonated with me because I often felt caught between two places. I am Mexican, but I often get the feeling that I am not "Mexican enough" for some people. But, at the same time, I'm not "American enough" to others. I particularly identified with the instances where Anzaldúa bounces between two languages, especially because I speak Spanglish, which is sometimes frowned upon by the Mexican community because I "did not learn the language well enough." Not being fully accepted by either of my nationalities is difficult, but by reading "Borderlands," I found comfort in knowing Anzaldúa experienced this as well. I am not alone. Her descriptions of having both feet on one side helped me to find my identity and be comfortable with who I am. It helped me to realize that the intolerance I face for being Mexican and American is not my fault. I am proud of who I am and where I come from.
“Borderlands” felt like a performance piece for me. It elicited so much emotion in me, sort of like watching a dancer perform or a singer sing. I consider “Borderlands” my bible. Whenever I feel lost in spaces of higher education, I always go back to the book. It reminds me that this too shall pass and that I can be fierce. When I graduated from my master’s program, I had to put her words “wild tongues cannot be tamed” on my cap. While my program was only a year long, I felt like every day was a challenge. “Borderlands,” for me, meant navigating the space between higher education and my community.