33 pages 1 hour read

Gloria E. Anzaldua

Borderlands La Frontera

Nonfiction | Essay Collection | Adult | Published in 1987

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, by Gloria Anzaldúa, presents the U.S.-Mexico border as a space ripe for sociocultural, psychological, and historical deconstruction. Speaking from her own experiences growing up in South Texas, Anzaldúa redefines the boundaries between practice and theory, personal history and cultural critique, poetry and prose. Writing in both Spanish and English (and omitting translations at times), Anzaldúa writes as a Chicana, in the Chicano language, envisioning a new consciousness borne out of the Chicana experience in the borderland.

Beginning with a chapter on the history of the borderland as homeland for the Aztecs, Anzaldúa provides an initial deconstruction of the U.S.-Mexico borderland as an open wound where cultures meet to become a third border country. She goes into the history of indigenous migration to the area and the history of the border itself, describing the relationships between U.S. business interests and the land that have resulted in a situation of Mexican oppression. From there, Anzaldúa describes the rebellion of the Chicano people, both within their culture and with the white American influence. She describes the alienation from Chicano life she feels as a queer woman, rejected by her own culture.

Anzaldúa’s chapter on the serpent describes the various goddesses in the Mexican indigenous religious traditions that have influenced the Virgin Guadalupe coming out of colonial Spanish religious influence. Delving into these histories, she links the subjugation of these goddesses to the denial of the dark goddess within herself, painting this dark force as the key to self-knowledge and higher consciousness. The Coatlicue state is the experience of reckoning with this dark self, in which the body is forced to slow down to deal with its inner emotional life. Rather than pushing these emotional experiences out of mind, as Western culture proscribes, Anzaldúa forces herself to face the dark goddess Coatlicue head-on.

In her chapter on language, Anzaldúa details the linguistic specificities of Chicano Spanish. She describes her personal experiences as an outlaw from enforced American English, implicating the ways language can be used as a tool for oppression, but also a tool for unifying her Chicano nation. She also describes her process as a writer, linking the experience of artistic creation to the psychic space of the borderland and providing a meta-critical commentary on her book as a whole. Her final chapter puts forth a call for a new mestiza consciousness, boldly synthesizing the book’s prior ideas to position the mestiza as the catalyst for a new world order.

Anzaldúa’s series of poems that make up the second half of the book echo the ideas in her prose. As lyrical texts, they embody the idea of text-as-performance that she proposes earlier in the book. Some of them are meant to be sung, while others are written entirely in Spanish without translations. They parallel the structure of the prose portion of Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, ending with the call to action that Anzaldúa sets up throughout the text. 

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