Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Guest Post: Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La frontera

Please welcome Lu from Regular Rumination to the GLBT Reading blog today! She has kindly written up a guest post for us on Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La frontera, which is a POC GLBT book. Thank you very much, Lu!


I have tried to come up the beginning of this post about Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La frontera with different definitions of a border, but really I think Anzaldúa said it best:

    “Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants” (25).

Borderlands/La frontera is a book that defines these boundaries and that gives a name to the inhabitants of the borderlands, whether it is the people who live on the US/Mexican border, women or lesbians. It is a book that crosses all boundaries of genre and never allows itself to be defined: it is memoir, it is a book of poetry, it is a history book. Most of all it is a demand. It demands that these voices, corralled and silenced by the unnatural boundaries that contain them, are heard and that they are listened to.

Reading Borderlands/La frontera is never easy to read, or frankly, enjoyable. It never was meant to be. It is abrasive and unapologetic as Anzaldúa dissects all of the things that have enraged her, from the racism she encountered in the United States to the misogyny and homophobia of her fellow Mexicans. It begins with a brief history of Texas and the surrounding areas that once belonged to Mexico and were wrongfully taken by the United States in the Mexican-American War.

The point of revealing that history is to contextualize Anzaldúa’s childhood: even as a sixth-generation American (three generations more than me, for example), Anzaldúa and other members of her community were constantly treated as second-class citizens. As a woman, she was treated like a second-class citizen in her own communities. As a lesbian, she was treated even worse, rejected by the other women in her community. It’s an unimaginable amount of mistreatment and discrimination and Borderlands/La frontera puts words to her story and the story of so many others who faced such discrimination.

The following chapters, through a somewhat stream-of-consciousness style, address different aspects of society and culture that have impacted Anzaldúa’s life, from sexism, to questions of race and racism, to sexuality in society. The most fascinating chapter for me was language and language as identity. There is a significant amount of Spanish, and though I know Spanish, this book would not be too difficult to read for someone who does not speak Spanish as long as they used a Spanish/English dictionary once in a while.

    “So, if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity – I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself. Until I can accept as legitimate Chicano Texas Spanish, Tex-Mex and all the other languages I speak, I cannot accept the legitimacy of myself. Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish, and as long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me, my tongue will be illegitimate.

    I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice: Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent’s tongue – my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence (81).”

The question here is of legitimacy – English is the language that is spoken by the majority of people in the United States. It is the language spoken by our government, though it is not our official language. I believe that if you want to be successful, you should learn English to the best of your ability. I would expect the same of myself if I moved to another country where English was not the language spoken by a majority. Anzaldúa’s point is that she was born in the United States, she is a sixth-generation American. She should not feel ashamed of any of the languages she speaks, whether it is Spanglish, Spanish, English with a chicana accent. She should never have to feel inferior, no one should.

Neither language is more legitimate than the other.

No gender is more legitimate than the other.

No race is more legitimate than any other.
No sexual orientation is more legitimate than the other.

Borderlands/La frontera was written in 1987 and as such there are certain things that have changed for the better since its publication. I don’t think Spanish is seen as an “inferior” language in school’s anymore (though I, as a Spanish major, might be biased in that). I think most people take Spanish in high school now and there are more and more people studying it at the college level every year. Clearly this is a discussion that we still need to be having and this book is one that still must be read, but thankfully we can see some of the changes in society since the late 80s.

I’d like to close with some of Anzaldúa’s final words in the book, because it expertly sums up what this is all about – opening up the forum for discussion. When people ask me why I became a Spanish major, I tell them one of two things. First, I love reading in Spanish. But more importantly, it’s about bridging the gap between cultures. It’s about understanding one another and breaking the prejudices that exist on both sides. It’s about being bigger than the debate, it’s about compassion and it’s about bringing us all together. I mean that very sincerely. We need to have that conversation. In book blogging, the conversation starts with a book cover. It starts with a blog post. Borderlands/La frontera is only one way to begin that discussion and it’s as good a place as any to start.

    “Individually, but also as a racial entity, we need to voice our needs. We need to say to white society: We need you to accept the fact that Chicanos are different, to acknowledge your rejection and negation of us. We need you to own the fact that you looked upon us as less than human, that you stole our lands, our personhood, our self-respect. We need you to make public restitution: to s ay that, to compensate for your own sense of defectiveness, you strive for power over us, you erase our history and our experience because it makes you feel guilty – you’d rather forget your brutish acts. To say you’ve split yourself from minority groups, that you disown us, that your dual consciousness splits off parts of yourself, transferring the “negative” parts onto us. (Where there is persecution of minorities, there is shadow projection. Where there is violence and war, there is repression of shadow.) To say that you are afraid of us, that to put distance between us, you wear the mask of contempt. Admit that Mexico is your double, that she exists in the shadow of this country, that we are irrevocably tied to her. Gringo, accept the doppelganger in your psyche. By taking back your collective shadow the intercultural split will heal. And finally, tell us what you need from us (108).”

You will not like everything that Anzaldúa has to say, she is, without a doubt, not trying to please the reader in any sense. You will possibly be offended by some of what she has to say, but don’t let that stop you from reading. This is an important book and one that everyone should read.


Amanda said...

Thanks again, Lu!

Reading this, I have to say that in Texas, Spanish is still looked down on in schools by some people. It's offered everywhere, but there is a huge population here that retains the prejudice that people from Mexico are fundamentally less intelligent and that Spanish is a less intelligent language. It's really dumb, but many, many people (especially older people) still subscribe to that. In fact, when my youngest son entered a new dual-language program at our school (where he will be taught Eng & Spa all through 5th grade), some of my family reacted by saying we shouldn't let him do that because that will HINDER his education, when in fact that really HELPS his education A LOT.

Thinking of hispanic people as inferior is a serious problem here, and that's really sad. I think I want to read this book.

MissA said...

Sometimes you have to read a book that may offend you, that makes you think because you will be a better/more well-rounded person for it.

I wholeheartedly agree with Andaluzia's definition of a border. I've never been a big fan of Texas and hearing your stories doesn't help, althoughI know not all Texas treats Latinos (or Black people) like that.

Amanda said...

There are, thankfully, many Texans that are not horrible to hispanics and blacks. One of the things I like about living here is the ability to be in a diverse city. I love that my city is majority hispanic and that my son can be in a bilingual class at school. But Texas border policy is ridiculous. Unfortunately the rural areas (rather than the cities) are much worse in prejudice and they influence much of the politics in the state.

MissA said...

It would be wonderful to grow up in a city that is majority hispanic, you would learn so much and I'm envious that your son can be in a bilingual class!

It's sad how one small group can affect people's opinions about something, in this case, the act of a few ignorant people can make people think poorly of Texas.