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Remembering the Radical Work of Gloria Anzaldúa on Her Birthday, 15 Years After Her Passing

Photo Alison Hawthorne Deming

She called herself a “chicana dyke-feminist, tejana patlache poet, writer, and cultural theorist,” and anyone reading her work would be hard pressed to deny her this claim. Gloria Anzaldúa died from health complications over 15 years ago, but her seminal work on borderlands and feminist and queer theories is as relevant as ever now. Today, she would have been 76 years old and likely would have added so much more work to her oeuvre, especially in the context of the 2016 election and how that has shaped the national conversation on immigration. 

Anzaldúa’s own upbringing as an American-born daughter of migrant farmworkers, living in Southern Texas — for a time she worked alongside her parents — is the fire behind her work and her conception of America, leading her to feel the existence of the border on a visceral level, describing it as such in her most powerful book “Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. She writes, “The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms, it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country — a border culture.” 

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Photo Alison Hawthorne Deming

If you haven’t read her work before, this description encompasses her poetic sensibilities, her unflinching critique of the politics of the frontera, her easy shifts from written English to Spanish that mimic her own experience with language; parts of the book also integrate Nahuatl. Though “Borderlands/La Frontera  was written in 1987, it expresses a resonant, cogent cultural and political rage that has kept it on the must-read lists of major media publications even through today; the New York Times recently chose it as one of four books that readers should pick up if they’re looking for informative reads about the border, while the Washington Post listed it as one of ten books that captures what it’s like to be a “child of diaspora.” 

It’s not just that the content is relevant: The book is a masterpiece. It’s melding of personal essays, poetry, and critique evokes Anzaldúa’s boundless understanding of what written works have the potential to become. Her courageous approach to “Borderland/La Frontera” got the book chosen by Literary Journal as one of its best books of the year when it was first published. 

While there are other anthologies and essays of Anzaldúa’s worth reading, “Borderland/La Frontera” is the one we most urgently need to revisit today as we remember this Chicana activist, wishing her a happy birthday by carrying on her legacy through education and action surrounding immigration and, specifically, our country’s relationship with the US-Mexico border.

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