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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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2. Exploring Borders   

2. Exploring

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- Gloria
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de las Casas
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del Castillo
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de Champlain
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Authors: Gloria Anzaldúa (b. 1942)

Mexican Mother in California
[5394] Dorothea Lange, Mexican Mother in California (1935), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USF34-000825-ZC].

Gloria Anzaldúa Activities
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Gloria Anzaldúa's work is fundamentally concerned with articulating what she calls a "new mestiza consciousness," an identity characterized by hybridity, flexibility, and plurality and focused on the experiences of Chicanas (Mexican American women) and particularly mestizas (Chicana and Mexican women who have mixed Native American and Spanish heritage). Writing fiction, poetry, memoirs, and literary and cultural criticism (sometimes all within the same text), Anzaldúa has helped define and lend authority to women of color as well as gays and lesbians, whom she identifies as empowered by the inclusiveness and expansiveness of mestiza identity.

Anzaldúa was born on a ranch in south Texas, near the border of Mexico. In her youth, she and her family labored as migrant agricultural workers. Although she felt stifled by the confines of a traditional Chicano home life in which gender roles tended to be rigid and rather limiting, Anzaldúa early found what she calls "an entry into a different way of being" through reading. Defying everyone's expectations, she went to college and earned a B.A. from Pan American University, an M.A. from the University of Texas at Austin, and did graduate work at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She has taught high-school English, been involved in education programs for the children of migrant workers, and taught creative writing and literature at a number of universities. A prolific writer, Anzaldúa has published stories, poems, critical theory, children's books, and a novel (La Prieta). Her work appears in both mainstream publications and alternative presses and journals. Anzaldúa's complex identity as a woman, a Chicana, a mestiza, and a lesbian is reflected in her pioneering contributions to gender studies, Chicano studies, queer theory, and creative writing. Her 1987 book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, stands as a manifesto of her ideas about culture and identity construction.

Because she believes that language and identity are inextricably linked, Anzaldúa's writing often engages in daring narrative innovations intended to reflect the inclusivity of the mestiza identity: by shifting between and combining different genres, points of view, and even languages, she attempts to represent the mestiza's propensity to "shift out of habitual formations . . . [and] set patterns." In this way, her narrative literalizes her ideal of "border crossing." Her writing thus works against hegemonic structures that limit individual expression or impose stereotypes based on race, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation. Composed partially in untranslated Spanish and slipping between poetry and prose, Anzaldúa's texts consistently articulate her commitment to making writing a vehicle for personal freedom and political activism.

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