What is a borderland as defined by Anzaldúa? Give an example of a borderland associated with a physical border, as well as a more abstract one.
Anzaldúa defines a borderland as the space created by the imposition of an unnatural border. For example, the United States imposes a border in order to differentiate itself from Mexico, a border that has nothing to do with either the land or the people who actually live in the Southwest. This border creates a “borderland” because the people living along it are left in a space of permanent ambiguity, subjected to excess state violence and economic uncertainty. The borderland here is not the geographical area by the border, but rather the political space it constructs in which people’s citizenship and nationality are undetermined and under threat. Similarly, gender constructs an artificial border between men and women, ignoring that there is no absolute division between genders. Queer people, who transgress the border between male and female through gender non-conformance and deviations from heterosexuality, end up inhabiting the borderland, the unstable space which exists at the constructed boundary.
Discuss Anzaldúa’s portrayal of the goddess Coatlicue. How does the author engage in “myth-making” through this account?
The goddess Coatlicue is a figure in early Aztec religion. In Anzaldúa’s account, she was the most powerful female goddess, and contained a multitude of contradictions: both motherly and sexual, masculine and feminine, light and dark. The Aztecs, threatened by her power, split her into multiple guises and demonized those which fell on the less powerful side of various dualities; her sexuality especially was targeted, leaving only the virginal Coatlapeuh. This made way for the arrival of the Spanish, who colonized Coatlapeuh by molding her into the Catholic figure of the Virgin Mary. This account of the history of Coatlicue thus creates a “myth” of patriarchy: a mythical explanation for the patriarchal cultural reality which Anzaldúa experiences.
To what extent is the “new mestiza consciousness” tied to race? Justify your answer with evidence from the text.
In “Towards a New Consciousness,” Anzaldúa states that homosexuals are “the supreme crossers of cultures…[they] have strong bonds with the queer white, Black, Asian, Native American, Latino, and with the queer in Italy, Australia and the rest of the planet” (84). By referring to queer people as “crossers of cultures” she implicitly compares them to the mestiza, who similarly exist at the confluence of cultures and transcend national boundaries. In this sense, Anzaldúa asserts not only that queer people of all races might access something like the new mestiza consciousness, but that they might shape it. At the same time, the chapter, and the book, are largely focused on white supremacy, and specifically on the land of the American Southwest. This focus emphasizes that, although the new mestiza consciousness is not a matter of identity politics, in that it is not completely delineated by the race of individuals, the very idea of crossing cultural and national boundaries has fundamental racial ramifications, and the ultimate goal of the new consciousness is the deconstruction of whiteness and of the white supremacist United States.
How does Anzaldúa’s writing style embody the ideas of mestizaje and the borderlands which she espouses in the book?
Throughout Borderlands, Anzaldúa code switches between multiple dialects of Spanish and English. She also moves between academic and informal registers, between poetry and prose, and between memoir and theory. All these shifts embody the idea of mestizaje because they create a text which embraces mixing and contradiction. At the same time, Anzaldúa does not contrast these dualities against one another, but rather uses them in tandem. The book’s movements from Spanish to English are made smooth through contextual clues and translations which make the book readable to an audience who speaks only English, even if the text is more meaningful to bilingual readers. This embodies the idea of mestizaje because the text becomes more than a mix of two different languages: it forms its own language, which the reader learns to understand.
Discuss Anzaldúa’s approach to the idea of unity. How is the idea relevant to the text, and what does unity look like to her?
Anzaldúa both embraces a political project of unity, and complicates it by uplifting individual difference. This dynamic appears in the way she talks about her relationship to her family and culture; she sees her being as inextricable from her cultural and social surroundings, but she also professes her right to self-define and the necessity of forming new cultures. Paradoxically, in order for a unified revolution to take place, the dominant forms of culture will need to be broken open and reformed. Similarly, when Anzaldúa speaks of racial unity, she emphasizes that the idea of mestizaje can apply to many people of color, and that shared Indigenous heritage across ethnic groups could serve as a site of unity. Yet she also argues that individual cultural and ethnic groups need to assert their own unique struggles. Only through a conversation which respects and amplifies difference can unity be reached.