Borderlands La Frontera Summary

Gloria E. Anzaldúa

Borderlands La Frontera

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Borderlands La Frontera Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Borderlands La Frontera by Gloria E. Anzaldúa.

Borderlands La Frontera by Gloria E. Anzaldúa is a semi-autobiographical work of prose and poetry that centers on the theme of borders. Those borders are not fences, walls, or anything tangible, but rather the invisible boundaries that exist between Latinx and non-Latinx, men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals, and other binary groups. For Anzaldúa, “Borderlands” means an area of “la mezcla,” which means hybridity—and is characterized by those areas that are not uniquely American or Mexican. The term also refers to the current generation, which has learned to be a part of two cultures and therefore can no longer distinguish between the expectations of each culture.

Throughout the book, the author calls upon her readers to take an interest in the oppressed in order to alter the attitudes that feed into the creation and maintenance of these invisible borders. Anzaldúa uses this work to understand her own Chicana lesbian identity, navigating the various cultures that touch upon her life as well as the other binaries that influence her and the world’s perception of her. She writes in both English and Spanish to show that cultural identity can be expressed in a multi-lingual format. She writes that cultural identity is made by those in power—men. She wants to give a voice to those who are not in power so that they can identify their culture and themselves.

In chapter 1, Anzaldúa argues against the idea that land in South Texas belongs to the descendants of European families. She argues that Europeans took the land from the indigenous peoples, arguing that the ancient Indian ancestors of the Chicanos lived on that land as early as 3,500 BCE. Those Europeans imposed “White Superiority,” legitimizing only those who are white or allied with whites as owners of the land. This forceful theft of land did not stop at the United States/Mexican border, but rather crossed it, displacing indigenous communities. Anzaldúa ends this chapter by writing that despite this, the Chicanos have managed to support their communities.

Chapter 2 begins with recognizing social norms. For the author, being a lesbian is a challenge to those norms set forth by the Catholic Church. She was raised to yield to men, to marry a man, and respect men. As a child, if she were not doing something for a man, she was thought of as selfish and lazy. She challenged the norms that threatened to shape her life and identified with her ancestors’ history of female resistance. Some cultural traditions, she concludes, represent betrayals to the people who uphold them.

Chapter 3 describes the symbolism of the snake, or “la víbora.” Another important symbol in this chapter is the Virgen de Guadalupe, what she refers to as a Catholic pagan entity associated with serpents. Her Indian names are Coatlalopeuh and Coatlicue. The serpent represents a woman’s ability to hold power and property, and, also, the view that royal blood is passed through the maternal line. Guadalupe’s story was remade by men who took away those powers.

Anzaldúa discusses the symbolism of the mirror in different cultures in chapter 4. For her, the mirror is a portal through which the soul can pass to the other side where the dead live. She moves from this into a description of the Coatlicue state, which involves a duality in life; letting this state rule her life, she feels she is never alone and never feels afraid. Anzaldúa feels complete.

Chapter 5 considers language and how Spanish and English integrate and differ. There are, according to Anzaldúa, eight languages in the Chicano culture: standard English, working class/slang English, standard Spanish, standard Mexican Spanish, North Mexican Spanish dialect, Chicano Spanish, Tex-Mex, and Pachuco a.k.a. caló. She then goes on to describe how one’s use of language can be an act of self-identification; being Mexican is a question of the soul, not of mind or citizenship.

Anzaldúa presents her views on her own writing in chapter six, discussing ethnocentrism and Western aesthetics. She explores how her own writing makes her feel anxious because it forces her to examine herself and her conflicts. The chapter closes by mentioning borders, leading into the seventh and final chapter of the book. Here, Anzaldúa goes in-depth into “la mestizo”—when one group’s culture and spiritual values flow into another group. She identifies Chicana culture as the white culture’s attack on the beliefs of the Mexican culture. Together, these cultures attack the beliefs of the indigenous culture until someone who lives in this realm is left cultureless. She ends the book by discussing her homeland in South Texas, and the effect the phenomena of these chapters has on the people there, especially her father, who works himself to death as a farm laborer.

Borderlands La Frontera was published in 1987. In 2012, it was banned by the Tucson Unified School System in Arizona. The ban was prompted by HB 2281, a law that sought to prevent school districts from including courses or classes that feature resentment toward any race or class. The law is widely considered an attack on Mexican-American studies.