Borderlands: La Frontera is divided into two parts. The first, “Crossing Borders,” is written mostly in prose, and moves between memoir and critical theory, interspersed occasionally with poetry and quotations from other thinkers, poets, and singers. Anzaldúa also switches between Spanish and English, and between more casual and “academic” ways of writing. The second part, “Un Agitado Viento / Ehécatl, The Wind,” is entirely poetry.
The book begins by discussing the U.S.-Mexican border, giving a history of the presence of Indigenous and Spanish people in the region which centers on the Aztecs. This enables Anzaldúa to make one of her central claims: that the Southwest U.S. was Indigenous land first, and will be again. She also discusses immigration, and emphasizes the irony that Chicano immigrants are designated as illegal by a state which is itself occupying land illegally.
In the second chapter, Anzaldúa gives a history of her own life, discussing how she was exiled from her home because of her lesbianism and is still afraid to return. Nevertheless, she carries her home with her, and now knows that liberation will require not just the destruction of the occupying white culture, but also the transformation of the patriarchal Mexican and Indigenous culture which made her an outcast.
She continues with this theme in Chapter 3, “Entering into the Serpent,” which introduces the figure of Coatlicue, or the female Aztec goddess. Anzaldúa argues that her power has been stripped from her by male-dominated culture, but that she is nevertheless present, and gives her the capacity to see the world’s deep realities. The next chapter discusses how Coatlicue can make writing more difficult, but, when she is accepted, gives Anzaldúa the power to write transgressively.
Chapter 5, “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” discusses the role of language. Anzaldúa establishes that she speaks eight languages: not just standard English and Spanish, but combinations of the two and regional dialects of both. She specifies that she is her language, and discusses how her access to language has been infringed on, both in institutional settings like schools which force students to speak English, and in casual conversation where she needs to strategically decide what language to speak in order to be understood and taken seriously.
In Chapter 6, “Tlilli, Tlapalli: the Path of the Red and Black Ink,” Anzaldúa discusses the different roles of art in Western and Indigenous cultures, arguing that Westerners separate art from everyday life, while Indigenous peoples link art with spirituality and incorporate both into their day-to-day lives. Anzaldúa describes her own writing as entering into a “Shamanic State,” or as a spiritual practice that connects her to the world and her own body.
In the final chapter, “La conciencia de la mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness,” Anzaldúa articulates her overarching argument that a new mestiza consciousness, or a way of seeing the world grounded in existing at a crossroads and containing dualities, will pave the way for revolutionary change. She emphasizes the importance of tolerating ambiguity, and touches on a few crucial dynamics: the role of white people within the movement for racial liberation, the relationship between white supremacy and misogyny within Chicano communities, and the problem of internalized racism. Anzaldúa argues for celebrating “El día de la Chicana,” or a day based around imagining that the Chicana people are already liberated. To Anzaldúa, this day is inevitable because the land has always belonged to Indigenous and Mexican people.
The second section, “Un Agitado Viento / Ehécatl, The Wind” is a series of poems divided into six chapters. They begin by discussing childhood and the role of animals, and then the devastating impact of hard labor and the cruelty of white landowners. The next few sections focus on Gloria’s life after she left the border, on women’s liberation, and on the troubles of having a body. The section ends with a chapter on spirituality, and finally a section on the relationship between the borderlands and liberation.