Gloria Anzaldúa: From Borderlands to Nepantla
- Diana Isabel BowenDiana Isabel BowenCommunication Division, Pepperdine University
Gloria Anzaldúa was a Chicana feminist, queer, cultural critic, author, and artist who is well-known for her concept of the borderlands, physically referring to the U.S.–Mexico border, but also incorporating psychological aspects to describe the spiritual, sexual, or other boundaries that, although arbitrary and painful, guide one’s identity. Using her experiences as a means to create art and social thought, Anzaldúa calls the process of using struggles resulting from sexism, racism, and homophobia a starting point; she explained how theories of the flesh were born out of this necessity. Often, this process involves creating art or writing poetry, fiction, and theoretical essays that require adopting or crafting new terms and categories to more fully explain the lived experiences of people of color. In her writing, she used autohistorias—a term that describes using biographical stories interspersed across genres of writing—and often switched between English, Spanish, and Náhuatl languages. Noticing that scholars tended to use her theory of the borderlands almost exclusively to discuss the geographic tensions between the United States and Mexico, for example, she adopted the Náhuatl term nepantla to more succinctly describe the spiritual dimensions of experience.
Scholars interested in Anzaldúa’s work have observed the importance of acknowledging intersectionality and standpoint theories as central to exploring Chicana feminist thought. While her work connects her to the Chicana/o movement and to the women’s movement, Anzaldúa also discusses how the Chicana/o movement excluded women and the women’s movement excluded voices of women of color. Centering experiences of women of color and bringing marginalized voices to the center highlights Anzaldúa’s strategy for gaining awareness of one’s marginal status, reclaiming one’s identity through this knowledge, making use of everyday and structural acts of resistance, and creating theories of social change. These spaces of in-between are uncomfortable but also provide opportunities for social transformation.