Dates: September 26, 1942 - May 15, 2004
Occupation: poet, writer, activist, theorist, teacher
Known for: pioneer of Chicana/lesbian/feminist theory
Feminist Gloria Anzaldua was a guiding force in the Chicano and Chicana movement and lesbian/queer theory. Her writings blend styles, cultures, and languages, weaving together poetry, prose, theory, autobiography, and experimental narratives.
Life in the Borderlands
Gloria Anzaldua was born in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas in 1942. She described herself as a Chicana/Tejana/lesbian/dyke/feminist/writer/poet/cultural theorist, and these identities were just the beginning of the ideas she explored in her work.
Gloria Anzaldua’s parents were farm workers; during her youth she lived on a ranch, worked in the fields and became intimately aware of the Southwest and South Texas landscapes. She also discovered that Spanish speakers existed on the margins in the United States. She began to experiment with writing and gain awareness of social justice issues.
Gloria Anzaldua’s book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, published in 1987, is the story of existence in several cultures near the Mexico/Texas border. It is also the story of Mexican-Indian history, mythology, and cultural philosophy. The book examines physical and emotional borders, and its ideas range from Aztec religion to how lesbians find a sense of belonging in a straight world.
The hallmark of Gloria Anzaldua’s work is the interweaving of poetry with prose narrative. The essays interspersed with poetry in Borderlands/La Frontera reflect her years of feminist thought and her non-linear, experimental manner of expression.
Feminist Chicana Consciousness
Gloria Anzaldua received her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Texas-Pan American in 1969 and a master’s in English and Education from the University of Texas at Austin in 1972. Later in the 1970s she taught a course at UT-Austin called “La Mujer Chicana.” She said that teaching the class was a turning point for her, connecting her to the queer community, writing and feminism.
Gloria Anzaldua moved to California in 1977, where she devoted herself to writing. She continued to participate in political activism, consciousness-raising, and groups such as the Feminist Writers Guild. She also looked for ways to build a multicultural, inclusive feminist movement. Much to her dissatisfaction, she discovered there were very few writings either by or about women of color.
Some readers have struggled with the multiple languages in her writings – English and Spanish, but also variations of those languages. According to Gloria Anzaldua, when the reader does the work of piecing together fragments of language and narrative, it mirrors the way feminists must struggle to have their ideas heard in a patriarchal society.
The Prolific 1980s
Gloria Anzaldua continued to write, teach, and travel to workshops and speaking engagements throughout the 1980s. She edited two anthologies that collected the voices of feminists of many races and cultures. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color was published in 1983 and won the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award. Making Face Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color was published in 1990. It included writings by famous feminists such as Audre Lorde and Joy Harjo, again in fragmented sections with titles such as “Still Trembles our Rage in the Face of Racism” and “(De)Colonized Selves."
Other Life Work
Gloria Anzaldua was an avid observer of art and spirituality and brought these influences to her writings as well. She taught throughout her life and worked on a doctoral dissertation, which she was unable to finish due to health complications and professional demands. UC Santa Cruz later awarded her a posthumous PhD in literature.
Gloria Anzaldua won many awards, including the National Endowment for the Arts Fiction Award and the Lambda Lesbian Small Press Book Award. She died in 2004 from complications related to diabetes.