Borderlands / La Frontera Characters
The main characters in Borderlands / La Frontera include Gloria Anzaldúa, Gloria Anzaldúa’s mother, and Coatlicue.
- Gloria Anzaldúa, the book’s author and narrator, is a queer, feminist, Chicana writer and artist who draws on her personal experiences and critical theory to explore the idea of a “New Mestiza consciousness.”
- Gloria Anzaldúa’s mother was a loving parent who nevertheless transmitted harmful patriarchal ideas to Anzaldúa during the author’s childhood.
- Coatlicue is an ancient Aztec goddess who, for Anzaldúa, symbolizes the divine feminine, female sexuality and power, and the reclamation of Indigenous heritage.
Last Updated on April 12, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1146
Like much of Anzaldúa’s work, Borderlands / La Frontera is autobiographical in many instances, and the critical theories laid out are drawn from and inspired by Anzaldúa’s personal and sociocultural experiences. She devotes a significant amount of attention to reminiscing about her childhood in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, highlighting both the comforts of her culture and the ways in which she has been ostracized from it.
A specifically contentious aspect of Anzaldúa’s relationship with her Chicana heritage is her queerness. As a lesbian, she does not feel that she has a place within the oftentimes patriarchal culture she grew up in. Women were often warned against exercising their sexuality, and homosexuality itself is viewed as sinful, resulting in a significant sense of shame. However, rather than rejecting her culture entirely, Anzaldúa wishes to reform it. The theories presented throughout Borderlands / La Frontera are drawn from the desire to take ownership of the tension between personal, cultural, and political identity. By accounting for her mixed heritage and dissecting how factors such as race, gender, and sexuality are influenced by that heritage, she hopes to create a “New Mestiza consciousness,” which blends feminist and queer thought with traditional modes of existing and creating.
In addition to representing herself as a queer, feminist, Chicana woman, Anzaldúa also represents herself as an artist. She describes her relationship with art as both deeply painful and deeply rewarding, and she venerates the transformative and communal powers of art. By creating art that is uniquely informed by the social, emotional, and physical borderlands that she exists within, Anzaldúa can help others experience her unique relationship with her culture and herself.
Gloria Anzaldúa’s Mother
Anzaldúa’s mother appears frequently in the author’s recollections of her childhood. Though generally loving, Anzaldúa’s mother also often—both knowingly and unknowingly—contributed to her daughter’s sense of otherness by perpetuating patriarchal beliefs and stereotypes surrounding female sexuality and identity. This represents Anzaldúa’s belief that while men create the dominant culture, women are responsible for transmitting it. When mothers pass on toxic and harmful beliefs to their daughters, they ultimately reinforce patriarchal dominance and keep their daughters from achieving their full potential.
Coatlicue, or Serpent Skirt, is an early Aztec goddess of fertility, motherhood, and the earth. She was one of the most powerful figures in the Aztec pantheon, having been the mother goddess who birthed many other gods, including Huitzilopochtli, the patron sun god of the Aztecs. However, according to Anzaldúa, as the Aztecs became an increasingly male-dominated and war-centric society, female deities were increasingly marginalized. Coatlicue was divided into different aspects of her original self. Some of these aspects include Chihuacoatl, the patron goddess of women who die in childbirth, and Tonantsi, a fertility and nature goddess. It is at the site of a ruined temple of Tonantsi that the Virgin of Guadalupe is believed to have first appeared, creating a link between the Indigenous religions of Mesoamerica and Roman Catholic beliefs.
Anzaldúa uses Coatlicue as a symbol of the reclamation of the divine feminine. The inner “Shadow-Beast” that a young Anzaldúa feared marked her as different is figured as an aspect of Coatlicue. In order to achieve an advancement of one’s own consciousness, Anzaldúa suggests that one must first confront the complicated, painful, and conflicting parts of oneself. Coatlicue represents the Indigenous heritage that many Chicano women try to suppress out of shame. She also represents female sexuality, which is suppressed and discouraged by the patriarchal beliefs within Mexican society. To confront one’s inner Coatlicue is to embrace an explicitly Indigenous and undeniably female power. By doing so,...
(This entire section contains 1146 words.)
a woman can advance her understanding and acceptance of herself and the world around her.
The Virgin of Guadalupe
The Virgin of Guadalupe is an important figure in Mexican Roman Catholicism. The Church recognizes her as being synonymous with the Virgin Mary, but Anzaldúa proposes that her cultural importance is also grounded in early Mesoamerican religion. According to legend, Guadalupe appeared in the ruins of a temple dedicated to the Aztec goddess Tonantsi, who was herself an aspect of Coatlicue. This created a link between the Catholic Guadalupe and the Indigenous population of Mesoamerica. Anzaldúa positions the prevalence of Guadalupe as a symbol in both positive and negative terms. From the positive perspective, embracing Guadalupe means embracing her inextricable relationship with indigeneity and femininity. However, Anzaldúa also notes that the emphasis on Guadalupe’s virginity and purity has been used to encourage docility and chastity in Mexican and Chicana women.
La Malinche, also called La Chingada, is another name for Malintzin, an Indigenous Mesoamerican woman who was sold into slavery to the Spaniards in 1519 CE. She became a translator and advisor for Hernán Cortés, and she is historically regarded as a traitor to her people. However, Anzaldúa rebuts this interpretation, instead regarding La Malinche as a tragic maternal figure who was abandoned by her own people. La Malinche’s image has been heavily rehabilitated by the work of feminist Chicana and Mexican scholars, including Anzaldúa. Due to the fact that she gave birth to a son by Cortés, she is sometimes considered both the literal and symbolic mother of the mestizo people, who now make up the majority of the population of Mexico.
La Llorona is a figure from Aztec mythology. She wanders the night, wailing and searching for her lost children. Anzaldúa positions La Llorona as a maternal figure to the Chicanos, symbolically seeking to help them reunite the lost or maligned parts of themselves, including their indigeneity.
Hernán Cortés led the Spanish exploration and colonization of the Americas in the early sixteenth century. The arrival of Cortés and the Spanish conquistadors led to the deaths of millions of Indigenous Americans through a combination of disease and violence. The children of Cortés and the other Spaniards with the Indigenous population, often produced as a by-product of sexual assault, became the mixed-race mestizo people. The mestizos then journeyed north into the southwestern United States with the Spaniards, where they again intermarried with both the North American Indigenous peoples and, later, the white European colonizers. Chicanos are described as a blend of Indigenous, Spanish, Mexican, and white blood, culture, and language.
Cesar Chavez (1927–1993) was a Mexican American labor leader, political organizer, and civil rights activist. He has become something of a folk hero among many Chicano and Latino communities due to his efforts to improve the circumstances of farm workers in the United States. Anzaldúa credits his efforts with helping Chicano people realize that they were a significant sociopolitical demographic rather than scattered groupings of cultureless individuals.