This quote appears both at the beginning of the first chapter and the end of the last chapter of “Crossing Borders.” This structure casts the book itself as circular, ending where it began, a logic which is paralleled in the quote itself, which expresses that the land will return to the people who originally held it in common. In the phrase “was Indian always/ and is,/And will be again” Anzaldúa further complicates the timeline by simultaneously suggesting both that the land will return to “Indian” hands, and that it has always been theirs—the past exists as part of the present.
Barefoot and uneducated, Mexicans with hands like boot soles gather at night by the river where two worlds merge creating what Reagan calls a frontline, a war zone. The convergence has created a shock culture, a border culture, a third country, a closed country.
Coming towards the end of the first chapter, this quote vividly describes the material reality of the border. It begins by emphasizing the way the border transforms the people who live there, giving them “hands like boot soles.” Anzaldúa’s tone, in quoting Reagan, is skeptical. He may call the border “a war zone,” but she knows that its violence is actually manufactured by the U.S. state, and that the real nature of the people who live there and the communities they create is much more complicated, and much more beautiful.
Culture is made by those in power—men. Males make the rules and laws, women transmit them.
In chapter two, Anzaldúa recounts how she was expelled from her home because of her lesbianism. In this quote, she challenges some conventional ideas of racial liberation, which hold that culture should be preserved and praised as it is. Instead, even though Anzaldúa cares a lot about Mexican and Indigenous culture, and identifies with them, she also thinks it's important to confront them, both in their specifics and from the root. By asserting that “culture is made by those in power,” she argues that challenging cultural norms is part of the fight against oppression, even in the case of marginalized cultures.
Thus the Aztec nation fell not because Malinali (la Chingada) interpreted for and slept with Cortes, but because the ruling elite had subverted the solidarity between men and women and between noble and commoner.
In this quote, Anzaldúa is engaging in strategic myth-making, or telling a specific version of history with a political aim. She cites a canonical Aztec myth of the past, in which “la Chingada,” a figure who Anzaldúa describes as one of the guises of the feminine goddess Coatlicue, dooms the Aztecs by sleeping with Cortes. She contrasts this story with her own historically grounded argument, in which the Aztecs fell because of social inequality and oppression. Although her account is rooted in historical fact, she chooses to contrast it with mythological history, thus casting the two as equally valid ways of interpreting the past. The story of “la Chingada” is wrong not because it relies on myth, but because it fails to account for the lack of solidarity, a problem which Anzaldúa emphasizes because it suggests that inequality must be addressed as part of the fight for racial liberation in the present.
In trying to become “objective,” Western culture made “objects” of things and people when it distanced itself from them, thereby losing “touch” with them. This dichotomy is the root of all violence.
One of the primary themes in Borderlands is the oppressive nature of dichotomies, or oppositions between two supposedly irreconcilable concepts. Here, Anzaldúa expresses that at the heart of all these false dualities is the Western idea that the self can be totally differentiated from the other, that “we” can be defined only in opposition to “things and people” which are cast and different, and therefore lesser. This false differentiation serves to amplify the power of Western people and ideas, while dehumanizing those from “other” cultures.
As a person, I, as a people, we, Chicanos, blame ourselves, hate ourselves, terrorize ourselves.
In “The Coatlicue State,” Anzaldúa discusses the importance of self-perception in trying to create art. For her, and for all Chicanos, the ability to perceive oneself honestly is threatened by the context of white supremacy. Chicanos internalize the hatred and fear of white people, and come to “terrorize,” “blame,” and “hate” themselves.
Chicanos use nosotros whether we’re male or female. We are robbed of our female being by the masculine plural. Language is a male discourse.
In Spanish, the “o” or “os” ending denotes a male subject or subjects, while the “a” or “as” ending denotes a female subject or subjects. In this passage, Anzaldúa is discussing the first time she ever heard the word “nosotras,” or the female first-person plural. Growing up, she only heard the word “nosotros,” or the form of “us” which assumes a male subject. Because Anzaldúa articulates language as closely linked to self, this term, which erases women as part of the collective, serves to rob all Chicanos of their “female being.” Chicano women are erased, while Chicano men are robbed of their own feminine aspect, and the presence of women in their communities. Anzaldúa asserts that “language is a male discourse,” meaning that language is just one form of communication, or discourse, and that it is controlled by male power.
Los Chicanos, how patient we seem, how very patient. There is the quiet of the Indian about us. We know how to survive. When other races have given up their tongue, we've kept ours. We know what it is to live under the hammer blow of the dominant norteamericano culture. But more than we count the blows, we count the days the weeks the years the centuries the eons until the white laws and commerce and customs will rot in the deserts they've created, lie bleached. Humildes yet proud, quietos yet wild, nostros los mexicanos-Chicanos will walk by the crumbling ashes as we go about our business. Stubborn, persevering, pmenetrable as stone, yet possessing a malleability that renders us unbreakable, we, the mestizas and mestizos, will remain.
In the last paragraph of “How To Tame a Wild Tongue,” Anzaldúa writes this powerful testament both to the suffering of the Chicano people and their endurance. She cites the fact that Chicanos have kept their language as evidence that they are persistent and patient in a way no other race is. By listing off “the days the weeks the years the centuries the eons” without commas, her diction suggests the ongoing flow of time, the way days pile upon days, building up to eons of oppression. Yet at the same time that she emphasizes how long the Chicano people have been oppressed, she also asserts that this time will not be infinite. Saying not “if” but “until,” she not only hopes, but knows that one day “the white laws and commerce and customs will rot.”
When I write it feels like I'm carving bone. It feels like I'm creating my own face, my own heart—a Nahuatl concept. My soul makes itself through the creative act. It is constantly remaking and giving birth to itself through my body. It is this learning to live with la Coatlicue that transforms living in the Borderlands from a nightmare into a numinous experience. It is always a path/state to something else.
Anzaldúa compares the process of writing to sculpting. This simile suggests that writing begins not from nothing, but from raw material, in the same way that a sculptor needs something to sculpt. The comparison thus challenges the Western model of writing as the generation of something utterly new from one’s mind, in favor of Indigenous thought which perceives stories as already part of the world. From this original comparison, Anzaldúa moves on to argue that in her writing, she feels that she is specifically sculpting herself, that she transforms her own body. Thus the story transforms its author even as the author shapes and transforms the story.
The counterstance refutes the dominant culture’s views and beliefs, and, for this, it is proudly defiant. All reaction is limited by, and dependent on, what it is reacting against. Because the counterstance stems from a problem with authority—outer as well as inner—it’s a step towards liberation from cultural domination. But it is not a way of life. At some point, on our way to a new consciousness, we will have to leave the opposite bank, the split between the two mortal combatants somehow healed so that we are on both shores at once, see through serpent and eagle eyes. Or perhaps we will decide to disengage from the dominant culture, write it off altogether as a lost cause, and cross the border into a wholly new and separate territory. Or we might go another route. The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react.
Here Anzaldúa talks about a few different ways in which Chicanas might engage with the dominant white culture. She begins by discussing the “counterstance,” in which the oppressed people set themselves up in direct opposition to the dominant culture, seeking to negate whatever it does. The counterstance is a “a step towards liberation” because it is antagonistic to the dominant culture. However, it is ultimately limiting because its actions are determined by what the dominant culture does—it is trapped into merely responding to white culture, rather than building something new. Anzaldúa suggests that this is a good starting place, but that, to create truly livable lives, Chicanas will have to adopt a more transformative stance, either seeking to heal the wound, or to abandon the logic of the dominant culture altogether and create a wholly separate culture. Rather than suggesting that one of these solutions is best, she emphasizes that by abandoning the counterstance, by choosing “to act and not react,” Chicanas will have a wealth of choices for pursuing liberation.
Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Essays for Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza
Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua.