‘Borderlands/La Frontera’ — a review

August 29, 2014

From the September-October 2014 issue of News & Letters

Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, by Gloria Anzaldúa, 25th anniversary 4th edition (Aunt Lute Books, San Francisco, 2012)

The Introduction to this 25th anniversary edition opens with the shocking reminder that Borderlands was one of the books banned under a 2012 law prohibiting Mexican-American studies in Tucson, Ariz., public schools. Since its publication in 1987 it has been a watershed and not only for Chicana lesbian-feminist-activist writers. Gloria Anzaldúa’s work always bridged her own insights to a universality of borderlands: geographic, spiritual, cultural, sexual.


The book’s seven essays and several dozen poems are in English and Spanish and include elements of Indian languages forcing readers out of our comfort zones. Anzaldúa takes up Chicano history, Indian legends, language as identity and rebellion, love, the spiritual world, labor, sexuality, and feminist theory. Dreams and cultural myths are made real and woven into her experience. Imagery is painful, yet hopeful, as in “Letting Go”: “It’s not enough/ deciding to open. You must plunge your fingers/ into your navel…/spill out the lizards and horned toads..nobody’s going to save you…You will have to do, do it yourself” (pp.186-187).

In an interview, Anzaldúa cautions us not to “just pick some parts of Borderlands…the angrier parts are often ignored as they seem to be too threatening…” (p.271). Yet within the context of the whole, the essay “La conciencia de la mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness” presents a powerful philosophic approach especially important for today’s freedom struggles.

“Cradled in one culture, sandwiched between two cultures, straddling all three cultures and their value systems, la mestiza undergoes a struggle of flesh, a struggle of borders, an inner war…Like others having or living in more than one culture, we get multiple, often opposing messages.

 “But it is not enough to stand on the opposite river bank…a counterstance locks one into a duel of oppressor and oppressed…both are reduced to a common denominator of violence…At some point, on our way to a new consciousness, we will have to leave the opposite bank, the split between the two mortal opponents somehow healed so that we are on both shores at once and, at once, see through serpent and eagle eyes. Or perhaps we will decide to disengage from the dominant culture, write it off altogether as a lost cause, and cross the border into a wholly new and separate territory. Or we might go another route.” (pp. 100-101).


Within the individual, Anzaldúa sees the work that the soul performs as “where the possibility of uniting all that is separate occurs. This assembly is not one where severed or separated pieces merely come together…In attempting to work out a synthesis, the self has added a third element which is greater than the sum of its severed parts. That third element is a new consciousness—a mestiza consciousness—and though it is a source of intense pain, its energy comes from continual creative motion that keeps breaking down the unitary aspect of each new paradigm…A massive uprooting of dualistic thinking in the individual and collective consciousness is the beginning of a long struggle, but one that could, in our best hopes, bring us to the end of rape, of violence, of war.” (p. 102.)

The essay flows to a needed Chicana feminism: “it is imperative that mestizas support each other in changing the sexist elements in the Mexican-Indian culture…Men, even more than women, are fettered to gender roles…We need a new masculinity and the new man needs a movement” (p. 106).

Anzaldúa’s vision of going beyond reaction to action, the self introducing a new consciousness which both includes and transcends past oppositional, dualistic thinking, resonates strongly with the Hegelian “negation of the negation”: that creation of something entirely new which allows a new humanity to exercise many possibilities. Borderlands remains a fundamental spiritual and intellectual guidepost for serious revolutionaries today.

—Susan Van Gelder

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