Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza

Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza Summary and Analysis of "La conciencia de la mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness"

Summary

In “La conciencia de la mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness,” Anzaldúa concludes the prose section of Borderlands/La Frontera by describing what she calls “a new mestiza consciousness” (77). This consciousness is a way of seeing the world rooted in the Mexican philosophical valorization of mixed-race identity, and reshaped by a feminist worldview. In the first section of the chapter, “Una lucha de fronteras / A Struggle of Borders,” Anzaldúa discusses the state of “psychic restlessness” created by the mestiza’s position at the meeting of borders and identities. Torn between multiple cultures, spiritualities, and languages, she must constantly choose who to listen to. She must begin by taking up a “counterstance” to white culture, seeking to repudiate the system which invalidates herself and her beliefs (78). Yet, ultimately, she must move beyond the counterstance and find a way to heal the split between the two combatants and create a wholly new cultural space with numerous possibilities.

In the second section, “A Tolerance For Ambiguity,” Anzaldúa begins by stating that this flood of possibilities “leave[s] la mestiza floundering in uncharted seas” (79). She must realize that the borders she makes around ideas, trying to keep out undesirable ideas, in fact serve to limit her point of view and to replicate the linear and rational priorities of Western thought. She must begin to accept contradiction and ambiguity, to reject nothing out of hand. With time, she can be jolted into forming a synthesis of contradicting ideas, not through piecing them together or finding a balance, but rather by leaning on her new mestiza consciousness to form something greater than the sum of its parts. Ultimately, this work can deconstruct the subject-object duality which Anzaldúa describes as the root cause of all oppression.

The next section, “La encrucijada / The Crossroads,” begins with a discussion of Anzaldúa’s own experience of existing at the boundaries. As a mestiza she has no country, yet as a lesbian and a feminist all women are tied to her as sisters or potential lovers. She calls herself “an act of kneading,” a bringing together which also creates someone knew, a creature made up of contradictions who also questions the boundaries which allow contradiction to exist. Anzaldúa compares the mestiza to an ear of corn, as tenacious and long-lasting. Yet she also compares herself to all the steps of making a tortilla, from the grinding stone which squats on the ground, to the grinding motion, to the hungry mouth.

“El camino de la mestiza / The Mestiza Way” begins with a quote describing a brown woman packing for a journey. Anzaldúa analyzes this as representative of the first step the mestiza must take as she sets off to build a different culture; she must take inventory of whatever her ancestors left for her, and decide what to keep and what to get rid of. By sorting through history, she is empowered to reinterpret it, to “[shape] new myths” (82). She gains new capacities to accept and reject, to construct and deconstruct, and to transform herself.

The next section, “Que no se nos olvide los hombres [Let’s not forget the men],” discusses the relationship between Mexican misogyny and colonialism. Anzaldúa argues that “machismo,” or a form of masculinity characterized by the dismissal of and even violence towards women, is an adaptation to poverty, oppression, and low self-esteem imposed by white supremacy. Chicano men are marked as inferior to white men, who project their own sense of inferiority onto oppressed racial groups. In turn, Chicano men cope with this imposed sense of shame by mistreating the women in their lives, who have even less power. Anzaldúa specifies that, although Chicana feminists understand the root causes of “machismo,” they will not continue to put up with it. Instead, men need to make a commitment to be better and to eliminate their own violent behavior. Anzaldúa states that “the struggle of the mestiza is overall a feminist one” (84). The links between white supremacy and patriarchy which created machismo also dictate that the oppression of women will always also reify racism. Rather than casting men as the enemy, Anzaldúa emphasizes that men have the capacity to challenge the current masculinity by encountering the woman inside themselves, and that many gay men already do so. Queer people, like the mestizo, have the capacity to move across false boundaries and bring everyone else together.

In “Somos una gente [We are a people],” Anzaldúa discusses the role of white people in the movement for racial justice. She begins by acknowledging that many women and men of color don’t want to work with white people, because breaking down their race hatred and fear takes so much time and energy. However, she feels that it is important to use some energy to act as a mediator, to “allow whites to be our allies” by educating them on history and making sure they know they are not helping people of color, but rather following their lead (85). She argues that Chicanos need to voice their needs, to say to white society that they must own up to their dehumanization of Chicanos and make restitution, that they must acknowledge the place Mexico has in their psyche as the dark other to the United States, a place marked by fear and contempt, and work on healing this split.

“By Your True Faces We Will Know You” emphasizes the continued importance of Indigenous identity and history to Chicano people. Despite America’s claim to exist as a melting pot, Anzaldúa asserts that they have not assimilated, or melted away into the general white culture. Instead, white ignorance kills by stripping people with indigenous ancestry of their right to self-determination, an oppression that prevents them from being fully themselves. Anzaldúa argues that the Chicano must find unity with Native Americans and other groups, learning one another’s histories of struggle and Indigenous lineages. Awareness must lead to a transformation of inner life, of psyche, a transformation that would lead to a different image of the world, history, and self which could in turn lead to changes in society.

In “El día de la Chicana [The day of the Chicana]” Anzaldúa dreams of a world in which Chicanos and Chicanas uncover their true faces, restore their dignity and self-respect. She is able to see clearly, past racial stereotypes and patriarchal values which flatten women’s complexities. She sees her people claiming new understandings of their own identity, new beliefs. On December 2nd, Anzaldúa celebrates her own holiday, the day of the Chicana and the Chicano, in which she affirms herself and her people through honesty, the voicing of individual and collective needs, the owning of all the contradictory aspects of her self. She searches for her people’s innate dignity, honors their great purpose of contributing to the world on a grand scale.

The final section, “El retorno [The return]” describes Anzaldúa returning to the border where the book began, watching the fence where the Rio Grande empties into the sea. Gloria feels a physical connection to this land, can almost see the Spanish entering the valley, beginning the clash of cultures which she is the result of. This land is still her home, with its farms, its poverty, its bright architecture, its music. Still it struggles to survive, even as it did when she was a child. Her brother’s farm must pay for irrigation which it can barely afford, as small farms go bankrupt all across the country. While her brother farms, her mother grows roses. Always, “the Chicano and the Chicana have…taken care of growing things and the land” (91). Looking into her own past, Gloria remembers planting and tending tiny watermelon seeds which would yield fruits hundreds of times their size. Like the plants, she and her people survive, transform, grow back.

Analysis

La conciencia de la Mestiza/ Towards a New Consciousness” can be read both as a synthesis of the ideas and strategies Anzaldúa lays out in the first six chapters of Borderlands/La Frontera and as a complete political argument in itself. The opening of the chapter articulates what Anzaldúa names “the new mestiza consciousness.” This idea builds on the ideas of Jose Vascocelos, a Mexican philosopher who argued for the ascendance of one mestizo race. His ideas were rooted in racial essentialism, or the idea that race is an innate biological reality rather than a social construct. From this perspective, he argued that the mixing of different bloodlines would create a new mestizo race which, through natural selection, would inherit only the “best” qualities of each individual race.

In quoting from Vascocelos, Anzaldúa appropriates his idea of the new mestizo race, but reimagines it from an anti-essentialist framework. For Anzaldúa, the new mestiza consciousness is rooted not in a biological reality, but rather in the social and cultural experience of existing at the borderlands, “cradled in one culture, sandwiched between two cultures, straddling all three cultures and their value systems” (78). One important difference is between how Vascocelos and Anzaldúa thought about Indigeneity. For Vascocelos, Indigenous people were an inferior and primitive race who would be eliminated and elevated through racial mixing. In contrast, Anzaldúa emphasizes the persistence of her own Indigenous roots, “I am visible—see this Indian face” (86). Rather than a distancing from Indigenous heritage, part of the new mestiza consciousness is precisely perceiving and centering one’s own Indigenous heritage.

Another important deviation is Anzaldúa’s emphasis on building coalitions across racial lines, “Before the Chicano and the undocumented worker and the Mexican from the other side can come together, before the Chicano can have unity with Native Americans and other groups, we need to know the history of their struggle and they need to know ours” (86). Here, Anzaldúa casts unity as an important political goal, but, unlike Vascocelos’ mestizo which assumes unity can be achieved through racial mixing, Anzaldúa emphasizes that unity will rest on the ability to see and acknowledge differences. Importantly, this quote casts racial differences, like that between Chicanos and Native Americas, as of a type with economic differences, like those between undocumented immigrants and Mexicans. This parallel emphasizes that she perceives race not as a biological reality, but as a socially constructed boundary between peoples. Just as the artificial U.S.-Mexican border renders some people immigrants and other people citizens, so artificial (but socially and politically powerful) delineations between races render some people Chicano and others Native American.

Queerness is a crucial aspect of this anti-essentialist argument. Anzaldúa says of herself, “all countries are mine because I am every woman’s sister or potential lover…[as] a lesbian I have no race, my own people disclaim me; but I am all races because there is the queer of me in all races” (80). She thus imagines queerness as a way to tie herself to other people both socially, because lesbianism allows her to make close connections with other women, and politically, because queer people exist as a political group within all races. She returns to the importance of queer people within political movements when she talks about confronting “machismo” and male violence. Gay men, she argues, have been the only men with the courage to challenge toxic masculinity by “[exposing] themselves to the woman inside them.” 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). In several ways, queer people are able to inhabit the new mestiza consciousness. They are not only able to form political and social ties across national borders, but they are also willing to acknowledge and hold contradictions, such as that between male and female.

Ultimately, Anzaldúa is arguing not that the mestizo race will become dominant, but rather that a new way of thinking tied to Chicana/o experience, as well as to queerness, and to a feminist framework, has the power to transform the world. The last section of the chapter is one of the most strikingly beautiful and poetic passages in the novel. In it, Anzaldúa envisions a land haunted by the past. She “can almost see the Spanish fathers…enter this valley,” can “still feel the old despair when [she] look[s] at the unpainted, dilapidated, scrap lumber houses,” sees “the Valley still struggling to survive [emphasis mine]” (89-90). Thus, with her return, she sees not how the valley has changed, but how it has stayed the same, both in terms of how it was when she was child, and how it has been since the colonizers arrived hundreds of years ago. By focusing on these similarities, Anzaldúa rejects the Western linear model of the passage of time and the march of history, instead understanding the past as a tangible part of the present. She also suggests that transformation will not happen step by step, but rather radically, in confrontation with the historical roots of injustice as well as the present.