Gloria Anzaldúa Critical Essays

Introduction

Gloria Anzaldúa 1942-2004

(Full name Gloria Evanjelina Anzaldúa) American novelist, poet, short story writer, essayist, critic, editor, and children's author.

The following entry presents an overview of Anzaldúa's career through 2004.

Anzaldúa is recognized as a significant figure in contemporary Chicano literature. Her fiction, poetry, and essays explore her experience as a mestiza, a woman living on the border between different countries and cultures. She is respected as an authoritative voice on feminist and homosexual issues, particularly as they relate to Third World countries and Chicano culture.

Biographical Information

Anzaldúa was born September 26, 1942, in Jesus Maria of the Valley, a Mexican community on the Rio Grande in South Texas. Her father was a sharecropper, and she was raised on a series of corporate farms. From an early age, she worked in the fields with her family. Despite financial and emotional hardships—her father died when she was fifteen—she excelled at school and became interested in writing. Anzaldúa attended Pan-American University in Edinburg, Texas, and received a B.A. in English, art, and education in 1969. She received an M.A. in literature and education from the University of Texas at Austin in 1973 and did further post-graduate study at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Later she taught high-school English in migrant, adult, and bilingual programs in Texas. With co-editor Cherríe Moraga, Anzaldúa collected a series of essays titled This Bridge Called My Back (1981), which became Anzaldúa's first publication and received a Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award. The volume explores the feminist revolution from the perspective of women of color and addresses the cultural, class, and sexual differences that impact them. In La Prieta (1995), she openly discusses her lesbian sexuality, a contentious issue that divided her and her family for three years. She has been an instructor on such subjects as creative writing, feminist studies, and Chicano studies at several universities, including the University of Texas at Austin, San Francisco State University, and the Vermont College of Norwich University. Her critical and fictional work is often published in numerous anthologies and alternative-press journals. Anzaldúa died on May 15, 2004.

Major Works

Published in 1987, Borderlands/La Frontera is considered Anzaldúa's major work. It traces the historical and personal journey of the people who inhabit the border between Mexico and the United States and elucidates the socioeconomic, political, and spiritual impact of the European conquest of indigenous peoples on the borderland as well as the ways in which marginalized peoples oppress one another. The volume is divided into two sections, the first a series of seven essays and the second a grouping of several poems. The poetry and essays in the collection are thematically linked by their focus on the borderland experience as well as the factors that affect cultural, sexual, and class unity. In the essay “La conciencia de la mestiza,” Anzaldúa touches on the divisiveness of sexism and homophobia to Chicano culture. By calling herself a mestiza, she rejects gender and sexual boundaries and attempts to create a new identity. Another essay, “The Homeland, Aztlán/El Otro México,” offers an extensive view of the major historical events that have resulted in the present-day border between the United States and Mexico. The second half of the essay provides a collective, familial, and personal perspective on the issue. In “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Anzaldúa explores the negative social attitudes toward Chicano ways of speaking, as well as the deleterious effects of these negative attitudes on the self-identity of Chicano people living in the borderlands. The last essay in the book, “La conciencia de la mestiza/Towards a New Consciousness,” introduces the concept of a mestiza consciousness, which is rooted in the borderlands, the breaking down of cultural boundaries, and the synthesis of different cultures, races, and languages. This amalgamation results in a new awareness, the mestiza consciousness, which subverts traditional perspectives on cultural identities to create a multicultural paradigm. In 1990, Anzaldúa edited Making Face, Making Soul: Haciendo Caras, an anthology of essays and poetry written by female students, artists, political activists, and academics.

Critical Reception

Reviews of Anzaldúa's work have been highly favorable. The majority of critical attention to her oeuvre is focused on Borderlands/La Frontera, which critics regard as an important cultural study. While a few reviewers have criticized Anzaldúa's style as elliptical and have identified a tendency in her writing to leave ideas undeveloped, most commend as innovative her approach to cultural and feminist theory, the scope of her essays, and her articulation of the challenges facing lesbians and people of color. Feminist interpretations of her work analyze the impact of her theoretical frameworks of identity and mestiza consciousness on feminist and homosexual studies. Commentators also praise the combination of historical information and personal experience in Anzaldúa's essays. Borderlands/La Frontera is recognized as an influential work in Chicano cultural theory, and has been a popular text in Chicano, homosexual, and feminist studies.