Each week for 26 weeks, I am publishing a post about women who are not widely known but should be—women who can inspire us, teach us, and encourage us to get out of our comfort zones and reach for our dreams. Week 7 of my A to Z challenge introduces us to Gloria Anzaldúa.
“Creativity sets off an alchemical process that transforms adversity and difficulties into works of art. All of life’s adventures go into the cauldron, la hoya, where all fragments, inconsistencies, contradictions are stirred and cooked to a new integration. They undergo transformation.” ~ Gloria Anzaldúa (qtd. in Reuman)
Every day of her life Gloria Anzaldúa worked to free herself from limitations. She was born in Raymondville, Texas in 1942, the oldest child of sixth-generation Mexican-American rancher-farmers. Early in her life she was diagnosed with a rare disorder that led to premature puberty, so from a young age she felt different from her peers—an outsider. That feeling was exacerbated when she entered the Texas school system, and was mocked by teachers for speaking Spanish. The adversity seemed to strengthen her resolve, and she became a top-performing student—the only Chicana enrolled in advanced high school classes (anb.org)
She graduated from Pan American University (now the University of Texas-Pan American), paying her own way by working during the day and attending classes in the evening. Gloria taught in the same racist school system she attended in Texas for a number of years, while working toward her graduate degree during summer breaks. She earned her Masters in English and Education in 1972, then began to pursue her doctorate at UT (anb.org).
Gloria became increasingly concerned with issues of intersectionality, especially as they applied to race, class, and gender, and she began to focus her research and writing efforts on these topics in particular. She moved to California and joined the Feminist Writers Guild, started a multicultural reading series called El Mundo Surdo (The Left-handed World), and offered writing workshops. In 1981, together with Cherrie Moraga, she coedited This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. The work was groundbreaking, as it called into question what had been traditionally a white middle class movement; the book quickly became the premier multicultural feminist text (anb.org).
In 1987 Gloria published her best known work, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza: “Throughout the book, Anzaldúa interweaves historical, contemporary, and mythic perspectives to describe her experiences as a Chicana-Tejana lesbian feminist while also developing her theories of ‘the new mestiza,’ ‘mestiza consciousness,’ and ‘the borderlands.’ Her groundbreaking use of code-switching (transitions, sometimes within a single sentence or paragraph, between standard to working-class English and Chicano Spanish, Tex-Mex, Nahuatl-Aztec, etc.) impacted composition studies, literary studies, and Chicana/o studies” (anb.org).
She returned to finish her doctorate, but in 1992 she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which significantly impacted her health. In spite of her struggles, she continued to write, publishing two bilingual children’s books that featured a strong female protagonist, as well as a series of interviews (2000), and in 2002 she published this bridge we call home: radical visions for transformation, “a multigenre co-edited collection of narratives, theoretical essays, short stories, poems, e-mail dialogues, and artwork that builds on and goes beyond This Bridge Called My Back to offer a transgressive vision of twenty-first-century women-of-color consciousness and documents the growth of Anzaldúa’s vision of social change and her radically inclusionary feminism, or what she called ‘spiritual activism'” (anb.org).
She earned numerous awards for her work, including the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award, Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Small Press, National Endowment for the Arts Fiction Award, Lesbian Rights Award, Sappho Award of Distinction, and American Studies Association Carl Bode-Norman Pearson Prize for lifetime achievement (anb.org).
Gloria died in 2004 of complications related to her diabetes, and was posthumously awarded her Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her life’s work had a tremendous impact on the fields of Chicana/o studies, feminist theory, cultural studies, queer theory, and women’s studies; all students should study her work and life as part of the K-12 curriculum.
“I have felt that all of what Adrienne Rich has written and what I have written is about getting out of this cage of limitations imposed by our respective cultures, and the loss of language, the loss of gender, the loss of genre, the loss of…ideologies. And that we just have different ways of envisioning getting out and getting free. I think where mine differs from hers is that I think that as soon as you get out of one cage, you’ve built another one, and that you then have to rail against those bars ad free yourself, and then you find yourself in another one. I’m not as—I’m hopeful, but I don’t think I’m as optimistic….I think human nature is very much about a creature that is in conflict with itself. As as soon as we solve something, or as soon as something gets better, there’s something else that needs attention.” (qtd. in Reuman).
G is for Gloria Anzaldúa, an author, teacher, feminist, and political activist who had the courage to think outside the box and challenge the limitations of social construction.
Reuman, Ann E. “Coming into Play: An Interview With Gloria Anzaldúa.” MELUS 25.2 (Summer 2000): 3-45.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.