Gloria Anzaldúa Essay - Critical Essays

Anzaldúa, Gloria


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.

Principal Works

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color [editor with Cherríe Moraga] (essays and poetry) 1981

This Way Daybreak Comes [with Annie Cheatham and Mary Clare Powell] (poetry) 1986

Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (essays and poetry) 1987

Making Face, Making Soul: Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color [editor] (poetry and essays) 1990

Prietita Has a Friend—Prietita tiene un amigo (juvenilia) 1991

Friends from the Other Side—Amigos del otra lado (juvenilia) 1993

La Prieta (novel) 1995

Lloronas, Women Who Howl: Autohistorias—Torias and the Productions of Writing, Knowledge, and Identity (essays) 1996

Prietita and the Ghost Woman—Prietita y la llorona (juvenilia) 1996

This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation [editor and contributor] (poems, letters, stories, essays) 2002


Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano (essay date fall 1994)

SOURCE: Yarbro-Bejarano, Yvonne. “Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera: Cultural Studies, ‘Difference,’ and the Non-Unitary Subject.” In Contemporary American Women Writers: Gender, Class, Ethnicity, edited by Lois Parkinson Zamora, pp. 11-31. New York: Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 1998.

[In the following essay, originally published in a 1994 issue of Cultural Critique, Yarbro-Bejarano discusses Anzaldúa's theory of mestiza or border consciousness in relation to the theory of difference and the mixed critical reaction to Borderlands/La Frontera.]

In 1979, Audre Lorde denounced the pernicious practice of the ‘Special Third World...

(The entire section is 8520 words.)

Ann E. Reuman (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Reuman, Ann E. “‘Wild Tongues Can't Be Tamed’: Gloria Anzaldúa's (R)evolution of Voice.” In Violence, Silence, and Anger: Women's Writing as Transgression, edited by Deirdre Lashgari, pp. 305-19. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995.

[In the following essay, Reuman asserts that Anzaldúa utilizes her voice to protest injustices against women and people of color and ranks the author as a bold and valuable figure in the modern literary world.]

But it was the glint
of steel at her throat
that cut through
to her voice.
She would not be
silent and still.
She would live,

—Lorna Dee Cervantes, Emplumada...

(The entire section is 6068 words.)

Marcus Embry (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Embry, Marcus. “Cholo Angels in Guadalajara: The Politics and Poetics of Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera.Women & Performance 8, no. 2 (1996): 87-108.

[In the following essay, Embry explores issues of Chicana cultural and sexual identity in Borderlands/La Frontera.]


When introducing an upper-level undergraduate course in Chicana/o or Latina/o Studies, there is a high probability that Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera will be among the texts to which many students have already been exposed. Despite the book's popularity and use in a variety of courses, Borderlands/La...

(The entire section is 8233 words.)

Diane L. Fowlkes (essay date spring 1997)

SOURCE: Fowlkes, Diane L. “Moving from Feminist Identity Politics to Coalition Politics through a Feminist Materialist Standpoint of Intersubjectivity in Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderland/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.Hypatia 12, no. 2 (spring 1997): 105-24.

[In the following essay, Fowlkes maintains that Borderlands/La Frontera “develops and presents a form of subjectivity and the needed standpoint that prepare the ground for using feminist identity politics to build feminist coalitions.”]

When the Combahee River Collective proclaimed its new practice of feminist identity politics (1978), it was acting as part of a grassroots movement that would...

(The entire section is 8446 words.)

Ian Barnard (essay date spring 1997)

SOURCE: Barnard, Ian. “Gloria Anzaldúa's Queer Mestisaje.MELUS 22, no. 1 (spring 1997): 35-53.

[In the following essay, Barnard examines Anzaldúa's utilization of queer theory in Borderlands/La Frontera.]

In the 1992 “queer issue” of The Village Voice, Dennis Cooper quotes Johnny Noxzema and Rex Boy characterizing the Canadian publication BIMBOX, which Noxzema and Rex Boy edited:

You are entering a gay and lesbian-free zone. … Effective immediately, BIMBOX is at war against lesbians and gays. A war in which modern queer boys and queer girls are united against the prehistoric thinking and...

(The entire section is 7541 words.)

Sonia Saldívar-Hull (essay date 2000)

SOURCE: Saldívar-Hull, Sonia. “Mestiza Consciousness and Politics: Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera.” In Feminism on the Border: Chicana Gender Politics and Literature, pp. 59-79. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, Saldívar-Hull elucidates Anzaldúa's theory of mestiza consciousness in Borderlands/La Frontera, viewing it as an articulation of “the politics of feminism on the border.”]

Who, me confused? Ambivalent? Not so. Only your labels split me.

—Gloria Anzaldúa, “La Prieta,” in This Bridge Called My Back


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Maria Antònia Oliver Rotger (essay date 2001)

SOURCE: Rotger, Antònia Oliver Maria. “‘Sangre Fértil’/Fertile Blood: Migratory Crossings, War and Healing in Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera.” In Dressing Up for War: Transformations of Gender and Genre in the Discourse and Literature of War, edited by Aranzazu Usandizaga and Andrew Monnickendam, pp. 189-211. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001.

[In the following essay, Rotger uses the term “sangre fértil” to describe Anzaldúa's ability to speak from a borderland position between a variety of cultures, languages, and perspectives and discusses the author's creation of a new consciousness as a feminist and political activist.]

In her elegy “Para...

(The entire section is 7967 words.)

Norma Alarcón (essay date 2003)

SOURCE: Alarcón, Norma. “Anzaldúa's Frontera: Inscribing Gynetics.” In Chicana Feminisms: A Critical Reader, edited by Gabriela F. Arredondo, Aída Hurtado, Norma Klahn, Olga Nájera-Ramírez, and Patricia Zavella, pp. 354-69. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003.

[In the following essay, Alarcón analyzes the role of Anzaldúa's theory of mestiza consciousness in her attempt to repossess the borderlands in Borderlands/La Frontera.]


In our time the very categorical and/or conceptual frameworks through which we explicitly or implicitly perceive our sociopolitical realities and our own...

(The entire section is 6387 words.)

Hector A. Torres (essay date 2004)

SOURCE: Torres, Hector A. “Genre, Gender, and Mestiza Consciousness in the Work of Gloria Anzaldúa.” Contemporary Literary Criticism 200, edited by Jeffrey William Hunter, 2004.

[In the following essay, specially commissioned for Contemporary Literary Criticism, Torres situates Anzaldúa's work within the cultural context of postmodernism via the literary and philosophical concept of mestizaje.]

“… this is where the new mestiza comes in … now, in these postmodern times we do not have to adhere to a windows and doors closed identity that remains in the Chicano community. We can be transcultural. The very concept of...

(The entire section is 9494 words.)

Further Reading


Aldama, Arturo J. “Toward a Hermeneutics of Decolonization: Reading Radical Subjectivities in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa.” In Disrupting Savagism: Intersecting Chicana/o, Mexican Immigrant, and Native American Struggles for Self-Representation, pp. 95-128. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001.

Contends that Borderlands/La Frontera implements a “radical hermeneutics of antisexist decolonial autohistoriateoría.

Anzaldúa, Gloria, and Karin Rosa Ikas. “Gloria Anzaldúa: Writer, Editor, Critic, and Third-World Lesbian Women-of-Color Feminist.” In Chicana Ways:...

(The entire section is 1276 words.)