Gloria E. Anzaldúa

Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa

Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa (1990)
Born Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa
(1942-09-26)September 26, 1942
Harlingen, Texas
Died May 15, 2004(2004-05-15) (aged 61)
Santa Cruz, California
Nationality American
Occupation Author, poet, activist

Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa (September 26, 1942 – May 15, 2004) was an American scholar of Chicana cultural theory, feminist theory, and queer theory. She loosely based her best-known book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, on her life growing up on the Mexican-Texas border and incorporated her lifelong feelings of social and cultural marginalization into her work.

Early life

Anzaldúa was born in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas on September 26, 1942, to Urbano Anzaldúa and Amalia Anzaldúa née García. Gloria Anzaldúa's great-grandfather, Urbano Sr., once a precinct judge in Hidalgo County, was the first owner of the Jesús María Ranch on which she was born. Her mother grew up on an adjoining ranch, Los Vergeles ("the gardens"), which was owned by her family, and she met and married Urbano Anzaldúa when both were very young. Anzaldúa was a descendant of many of the prominent Spanish explorers and settlers to come to the Americas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and also had indigenous descent. The surname Anzaldúa is of Basque (Spanish) origin.

Anzaldúa began menstruating when she was only three months old, a symptom of the endocrine condition that caused her to stop growing physically at the age of twelve.[1] As a child, she would wear special girdles fashioned for her by her mother in order to disguise her precocious sexual development. Her mother would also ensure that a cloth was placed in Anzaldúa's underwear as a child in case of bleeding. Anzaldúa remembers, "I'd take [the bloody cloths] out into this shed, wash them out, and hang them really low on a cactus so nobody would see them.... My genitals... [were] always a smelly place that dripped blood and had to be hidden." She eventually underwent a hysterectomy in 1980 when she was 38 years old to deal with uterine, cervical, and ovarian abnormalities.[2] Reflecting upon her illness, she announced: "I was born a queer."[1]

When she was eleven, her family relocated to Hargill, Texas.[3] Despite feeling discriminated against as a sixth-generation Tejana and as a female and despite the death of her father from a car accident when she was fourteen, Anzaldúa still obtained her college education. In 1968, she received a B.A. in English, Art, and Secondary Education from Pan American University, and an M.A. in English and Education from the University of Texas at Austin. While in Austin, she joined politically active cultural poets and radical dramatists such as Ricardo Sanchez, and Hedwig Gorski.

Career and writings

After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in English from the then Pan American University (now University of Texas Rio Grande Valley), Anzaldúa worked as a preschool and special education teacher. In 1977, she moved to California, where she supported herself through her writing, lectures, and occasional teaching stints about feminism, Chicano studies, and creative writing at San Francisco State University, the University of California, Santa Cruz, Florida Atlantic University, and other universities.

She is perhaps most famous for co-editing This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981) with Cherríe Moraga, editing Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color (1990), and co-editing This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation (2002). She also wrote the semi-autobiographical Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987). She was close to completing the book manuscript, Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality, which she also planned to submit as her dissertation. It has now been published posthumously by Duke University Press (2015). Her children’s books include Prietita Has a Friend (1991), Friends from the Other Side — Amigos del Otro Lado (1993), and Prietita y La Llorona (1996). She has also authored many fictional and poetic works. Her works weave English and Spanish together as one language, an idea stemming from her theory of "borderlands" identity. Her autobiographical essay, "La Prieta," was published in (mostly) English in This Bridge Called My Back, and in (mostly) Spanish in Esta puente, mi espalda: Voces de mujeres tercermundistas en los Estados Unidos. In her writing, Anzaldúa uses a unique blend of eight dialects, two variations of English and six of Spanish. In many ways, by writing in "Spanglish," Anzaldúa creates a daunting task for the non-bilingual reader to decipher the full meaning of the text. However, there is irony in the mainstream reader's feeling of frustration and irritation, the very emotions Anzaldúa dealt with throughout her life, as she struggled to communicate in a country where she felt, as a non-English speaker, she was shunned and punished. Language, clearly one of the borders Anzaldúa addressed, is an essential feature to her writing. Her book is dedicated to being proud of one's heritage and to recognizing the many dimensions of her culture.[3]

She made contributions to ideas of feminism and contributed to the field of cultural theory/Chicana and queer theory.[4] One of her major contributions was her introduction to United States academic audiences of the term mestizaje, meaning a state of being beyond binary ("either-or") conception, into academic writing and discussion. In her theoretical works, Anzaldúa called for a "new mestiza," which she described as an individual aware of her conflicting and meshing identities and uses these "new angles of vision" to challenge binary thinking in the Western world. She points out that having to identify as a certain, labelled, sex can be detrimental to one's creativity as well as how seriously people take you as a producer of consumable goods.[5] The "new mestiza" way of thinking is illustrated in postcolonial feminism. In the same way that Anzaldúa felt she could not be classified as only part of one race or the other, she felt that she possessed a multi-sexuality. When growing up, Anzaldúa expressed that she felt an "intense sexuality" towards her own father, animals, and even trees. She was attracted to and later had relationships with both men and women.[2]

While race normally divides people, Anzaldúa called for people of different races to confront their fears to move forward into a world that is less hateful and more useful. In "La Conciencia de la Mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness," a text often used in women’s studies courses, Anzaldúa insisted that separatism invoked by Chicanos/Chicanas is not furthering the cause but instead keeping the same racial division in place. Many of Anzaldúa’s works challenge the status quo of the movements in which she was involved. She challenged these movements in an effort to make real change happen to the world rather than to specific groups. Scholar Ivy Schweitzer writes, "her theorizing of a new borderlands or mestiza consciousness helped jump start fresh investigations in several fields -- feminist, Americanist [and] postcolonial."[6]

Anzaldúa wrote a speech called “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers” focusing on the shift towards an equal and just gender representation in literature but away from racial and cultural issues because of the rise of female writers and theorists. She also stressed in her essay the power of writing to create a world that would compensate for what the real world does not offer.[7]

This Bridge Called My Back: La Prieta

Anzaldúa's essay '"La Prieta" deals with her manifestation of thoughts and horrors that have constituted her life in Texas. Anzaldúa identifies herself as an entity without a figurative home and/or peoples to completely relate to. To supplement this deficiency, Anzaldúa created her own sanctuary, Mundo Zurdo, whereby her personality transcends the norm-based lines of relating to a certain group. Instead, in her Mundo Zurdo, she is like a "Shiva, a many-armed and legged body with one foot on brown soil, one on white, one in straight society, one in the gay world, the man's world, the women's, one limb in the literary world, another in the working class, the socialist, and the occult worlds".[8] The passage perfectly describes the identity battles, which the author had to engage in throughout her life, because of the numerous identity conflicts that have manifested over time. Since early childhood, Anzaldúa has had to deal with the shame of being a woman of color. From the beginnings she was exposed to her own people, to her own family's racism and "fear of women and sexuality".[9] Her family's internal racism immediately cast her as the "other" because of their bias that being white and fair-skinned means prestige and royalty, when color subjects one to being almost the scum of society (just as her mother had complained about her prieta dating a mojado from Peru). The household she grew up in is almost a stereotypical Chicano family, in which the male figure was the authoritarian head, while the female, the mother, was stuck in all the biases of this paradigm. Although Anzaldúa acknowledges the difficult position which white, patriarchal society has cast women of color, gays and lesbians, she does not make them to be the archenemy, because she identifies that “casting stones is not the solution”[10] and that racism and sexism do not come from only whites but also people of colours. Throughout her life, the inner racism and sexism from her childhood would haunt her, as she often was asked to choose her loyalties, whether it be to women, to people of color, or to gays/lesbians. Her analogy to Shiva is well-fitted, as she decides to go against these conventions and enter her own world: Mundo Zurdo, which allows the self to go deeper, to transcend the lines of convention and, at the same time, to recreate the self and the society. This is for Anzaldúa a form of religion, one that allows the self to deal with the injustices that society throws at it and to come out a better person, a more reasonable person.

Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

Anzaldúa is highly known for this semi-autobiographical book, which discusses her life growing up on the Mexican-Texas border. It was selected as one of the 38 best books of 1987 by Literary Journal. Borderlands examines the condition of women in Chicano and Latino culture. Anzaldúa discusses several critical issues related to Chicana experiences: heteronormativity, colonialism, and male dominance. She gives a very personal account of the oppression of Chicana lesbians and talks about the gendered expectations of behavior that normalizes women’s deference to male authority in her community. She develops the idea of the “new mestiza” as a “new higher consciousness” that will break down barriers and fight against the male/female dualistic norms of gender. The first half of the book is a series of essays, which feature a view into a life of isolation and loneliness in the borderlands between cultures. The latter half of the book is poetry. In the book, Anzaldúa uses two variations of English and six variations of Spanish. By doing this, she deliberately makes it difficult for non-bilinguals to read without being frustrated so that they can better understand the frustrating life she grew up in. Language was one of the barriers Anzaldúa dealt with as a child, and she wanted readers to understand how frustrating things are when there are language barriers. The book was written as an outlet for her anger and encourages one to be proud of one's heritage and culture.[11]


Anzaldúa described herself as a very spiritual person and stated that she experienced four out-of-body experiences during her lifetime. In many of her works, she referred to her devotion to la Virgen de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), Nahuatl/Toltec divinities, and to the Yoruba orishás Yemayá and Oshún.[12] In 1993, she expressed regret that scholars had largely ignored the "unsafe" spiritual aspects of Borderlands and bemoaned the resistance to such an important part of her work.[2] In her later writings, she developed the concepts of spiritual activism and nepantleras to describe the ways contemporary social actors can combine spirituality with politics to enact revolutionary change.

"Linguistic terrorism"

Anzaldúa felt very strongly about the connection between language and identity. She was dismayed with people who gave up their native language in order to conform to the society they were in. She believed that if people got criticized for their accents and stuck to it anyway they were strong individuals. Anzaldúa was often scolded for her improper Spanish accent and believed it was a strong aspect to her heritage; therefore, she labels the qualitative labeling of language "linguistic terrorism."[13] She spent a lot of time promoting acceptance of all languages and accents.[14] In an effort to expose her stance on linguistics and labels, Anzaldúa explained, "While I advocate putting Chicana, tejana, working-class, dyke-feminist poet, writer theorist in front of my name, I do so for reasons different than those of the dominant culture... so that the Chicana and lesbian and all the other persons in me don't get erased, omitted, or killed."[15]


Additionally, her work Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza was recognized as one of the 38 best books of 1987 by Library Journal and 100 Best Books of the Century by both Hungry Mind Review and Utne Reader.

In 2012, she was named by Equality Forum as one of their 31 Icons of the LGBT History Month.[21]


Anzaldúa died on May 15, 2004, at her home in Santa Cruz, California, from complications due to diabetes. At the time of her death, she was working toward the completion of her dissertation to receive her doctorate in Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz.[22] It was awarded posthumously in 2005.

Several institutions now offer awards in memory of Anzaldúa.

The Chicana/o Latina/o Research Center (CLRC) at University of California, Santa Cruz offers the annual Gloria E. Anzaldúa Distinguished Lecture Award and The Gloria E. Anzaldúa Award for Independent Scholars and Contingent Faculty is offered annually by the American Studies Association. The latter "...honors Anzaldúa’s outstanding career as an independent scholar and her labor as contingent faculty, along with her groundbreaking contributions to scholarship on women of color and to queer theory. The award includes a lifetime membership in the ASA, a lifetime electronic subscription to American Quarterly, five years access to the electronic library resources at the University of Texas at Austin, and $500".[23]

In 2007, three years after Gloria Anzaldúa's death, the Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa (SSGA) was established to gather scholars and community members who continue to engage Anzaldúa's work. The SSGA co-sponsors a conference - El Mundo Zurdo - every 18 months.[24]

The Gloria E. Anzaldúa Poetry Prize is awarded annually, in conjunction with the Anzaldúa Literary Trust, to a poet whose work explores how place shapes identity, imagination, and understanding. Special attention is given to poems that exhibit multiple vectors of thinking: artistic, theoretical, and social, which is to say, political. First place is publication by Newfound, including 25 contributor copies, and a $500 prize.[25]


Anzaldúa's published and unpublished manuscripts, among other archival resources, form part of the Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas at Austin. Anzaldúa also maintained a collection of figurines, masks, rattles, candles, and other ephemera used as altar (altares) objects at her home in Santa Cruz, California. These altares were an integral part of her spiritual life and creative process as a writer.[26] The collection is presently housed by the Special Collections department of the University Library at the University of California, Santa Cruz.


Children's books

See also


  1. 1 2 Gloria Anzaldúa, "La Prieta," The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, ed. AnaLouise Keating, Duke University Press, 2009, p. 39.
  2. 1 2 3 Anzaldúa, Gloria with AnaLouise Keating. Interviews/Entrevistas. New York: Routledge, 2000.
  3. 1 2 Gloria Anzaldúa: Voices From the Gaps. University of Minnesota
  4. Chicana Feminism - Theory and Issues.
  5. Gloria Anzaldúa, "To(o) Queer the Writer—Loca, escritoria y chicana", Invasions; writings by Queers, Dykes and Lesbians, 1994
  6. Schweitzer, Ivy (Jan 2006). "For Gloria Anzaldúa: Collecting America, Performing Friendship". PMLA. 121 (1, Special Topic: The History of the Book and the Idea of Literature): 285–291. doi:10.1632/003081206x129774.
  7. Keating (ed.), The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader (2009), pp. 26-36.
  8. (205)
  9. (198)
  10. (207)
  11. Gloria Anzaldúa: Biography–Criticism
  12. Anzaldúa, Gloria E. Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rethinking Identity, Spirituality, Reality. Durham and London: Duke, 2015.
  13. What is Linguistic Terrorism?, The Gloria E. Anzaldúa Foundation
  14. About Gloria, The Gloria E. Anzaldúa Foundation
  15. Anzaldúa, G. (1998). "To(o) Queer the Writer—Loca, escritora y chicana." In C. Trujillo (Ed.), Living Chicana Theory (pp. 264). San Antonio, TX: Third Woman Press.
  16. American Booksellers Association (2013). "The American Book Awards / Before Columbus Foundation [1980–2012]". BookWeb. Archived from the original on March 13, 2013. Retrieved September 25, 2013. 1986 [...] A Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua
  17. Book Awards - Lambda Literary Awards
  18. 1 2 Day, Frances Ann (2003). "Gloria Anzaldúa". Latina and Latino Voices in Literature: Lives and Works. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-313-32394-2.
  19. NEA_lit_mech_blue.indd
  20. ASA Awards and Prizes | American Studies Association
  21. "Gloria Andzaldua biography". LGBT History Month.
  22. Classes without Quizzes
  23. The Gloria E. Anzaldúa Award for Independent Scholars and Contingent Faculty 2010 | American Studies Association.
  24. "Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa". About the SSGA. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  25. "Gloria E. Anzaldúa Poetry Prize". Retrieved 7 February 2015.
  26. Cited in the Biography section of the UCSC finding aid.


External links

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