Women Writers You Should Know About #13 Gloria E Anzaldúa
“A woman who writes has power, and a woman with power is feared.”
― Gloria E. Anzaldúa
Gloria Anzaldúa was a creature of the ‘Borderlands’, a place where both English and Spanish were spoken and written, where America and Mexico collided, where genders were to be merged, respected and loved in equal measure. Her writings challenged the ingrained patriarchy she was raised in, the discrimination that women, especially her fellow Chicanas, experienced both then and now and explored eschewing labels in order to gain freedom of expression and of love.
“I am a wind-swayed bridge, a crossroads inhabited by whirlwinds … You say my name is ambivalence? Think of me as Shiva, a many-armed and legged body with one foot on brown soil, one on white, one in straight society, one in the gay world, the man’s world, the women’s, one limb in the literary world, another in the working class, the socialist, and the occult worlds. A sort of spider woman hanging by one thin strand of web.
Who, me confused? Ambivalent? Not so. Only your labels split me.”
– Gloria Anzaldúa, from ‘La Prieta’
Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa was born in Harlingen, Texas in September 1942. Her childhood was blighted by an endocrine condition that caused her to start having periods at the age of three, which caused the child no little trauma, and increased the feeling of isolation she already felt from being a native Spanish speaker in an English speaking country. Her condition caused her to stop growing physically at the age of twelve and her gynaecological problems eventually resulted in a hysterectomy. Her identity as a women, her sexuality (she identified openly as a lesbian but had relationships with both sexes), her own history and culture became the driving forces in her essays and teachings, preaching autonomy and responsibility for one’s own life.
‘Nobody’s going to save you. No one’s going to cut you down, cut the thorns thick around you. No one’s going to storm the castle walls nor kiss awake your birth, climb down your hair, nor mount you onto the white steed. There is no one who will feed the yearning. Face it. You will have to do, do it yourself.”
― Gloria E. Anzaldúa
After obtaining her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, she moved to California to write and teach, focusing on feminism, Chicano Studies and creative writing. She lived and breathed writing, reading, teaching but in the 1970’s came up again against the biases of the academic world towards Xicana and feminist studies. Editing the anthology, This Bridge Called My Back (1981) with Cherrie Moraga, it was this book which brought her to public notice. When she published her own semi-autobiographical book, Borderlands (1987), she used both prose and poems to illustrate her theory of ‘Mestiza’ – the invisible borders between men and women, heterosexuals and the LGBT community and other opposing cultures – she cemented her place as one of the foremost writers of the Xicana feminist movement, using her own life experiences to send out a plea to break down borders and become a more accepting, fluid society.
‘Why am I compelled to write?… Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and anger… To become more intimate with myself and you. To discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self-autonomy. To dispel the myths that I am a mad prophet or a poor suffering soul. To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit… Finally I write because I’m scared of writing, but I’m more scared of not writing’
― Gloria E. Anzaldúa
Her death in 2004, from diabetic complications, left the feminist movement, the writing world and Xicana cultural theorists wondering: what else might she have achieved? Her death came before she could finish her doctoral thesis at the University of California Santa Cruz, however it was posthumously published in 2005 and in 2012, she was named a LGBT icon of LGBT History Month. Dr Anzaldúa’s legacy will continue to inspire writers of all genders, sexual preferences and races. Her friend and student, historian Yolanda Chávez Leyva, writes:
‘In the mid-1970s, I was her friend and student. I remember her telling me often to “be a bridge.” It took me many years to understand what she was asking of me. Gloria Anzaldúa believed in bridges; she believed in change. Her legacy is a body of work that can speak to all of us, regardless of who we are’