Gloria Anzaldúa (September 26, 1942 – May 15, 2004), a self-described "chicana dyke-feminist, tejana patlache poet, writer, and cultural theorist," was born to sharecropper/field-worker parents in Rio Grande Valley, South Texas.
A versatile author, Anzaldúa published poetry, theoretical essays, short stories, autobiographical narratives, interviews, children's books, and multigenre anthologies. Anzaldúa won numerous awards for her work, such as the Lambda Lesbian Small Book Press Award for Haciendo Caras, an NEA Fiction Award, the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award for This Bridge Called My Back, and the Sappho Award of Distinction. In addition, her text Borderlands/La Frontera was selected by the Literary Journal as one of the 38 Best Books of 1987. As one of the first openly lesbian Chicana authors, Anzaldúa played a major role in redefining contemporary Chicano/a and lesbian/queer identities. As editor or co-editor of three multicultural anthologies, Anzaldúa has also played a vital role in developing an inclusionary feminist movement.
On May 15, 2004, Anzaldúa died from from diabetes complications at the age of 61, only weeks away from completing her dissertation and earning her doctorate from the University of California, Santa Cruz. In 2005, the University of Texas at Austin acquired her entire collection of works, which became part of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. .
The book comprises a set of essays and poems exploring identity, each drawing on Anzaldua's experience as a Chicana, a lesbian, and an activist. Anzaldua challenges the conception of a border as a simple divide, refiguring it as an area to be inhabited and that comprises part of an identity.
In the first chapter of Borderlands, Anzaldúa draws sympathy to the faceless, nameless, Mexican immigrants who have been caught up in the border conflict with three main points:
1. Anzaldúa begins the novel by using striking imagery to illustrate the incredible pain the border has brought to the mestizos by both dividing their culture and fencing them in, trapping them on one side.
2. She then argues that the deadly border was created by the "gringos" to separate us from them.
3. Anzaldúa then includes a short history of the people who have inhabited the Mexican region (and the former Mexican territory which is now the U.S.), beginning with the oldest known inhabitants of what is now the United States in 35,000 B.C. and ending in the present day.
In the last chapter, "The Path of the Red and Black Ink", Anzaldúa vividly compares the Western art, which are treated as objects, and Latino art, which are treated as people.
Anzaldúa opens Borderlands by talking about the ocean. She does this to contrast it with the United States/Mexico border, which is unnatural and confining. The border fence does not just separate two countries. It does something more; it sociologically and psychologically affects us, making us who we are and defining how we see the world. Anzaldúa then uses imagery which gives the reader a sense of the helplessness that the mestizo feels: pushed back from the land their ancestors lived on, and condemned to it. The border fence is like the bars on a prison cell, holding all of Mexico captive. By switching from Spanish to English, Anzaldúa gives the impression that she is tied to both cultures, and in doing so she creates an unlikely bridge between the two.
According to Anzaldúa, the borders separate the good from the bad, the safe from the dangerous, us from them. This separation of us and them that the United States has invented is evident in the way that people are treated on the border. When those of color cross the border, whether legitimately or not, they are “raped, maimed, strangled, gassed, [and] shot.” (25)Whites, on the other hand, have a free pass to cross the border as often as they like, legally or illegally.
In Anzaldúa’s final section of the first chapter, she tells the story of the mestizos’ descendants, beginning with the Chicanos in what is now Texas in 35,000 B.C. In 1,000 B.C. they moved south to what is now Mexico and Central America where their children, the Aztecs were defeated by Cortes in 1,500 A.D. At this time the mestizo, part Spanish part native, arose as the nueva raza(the new race). The mestizo then traveled to what is now the southwest United States and built their lives there. Later, as the United States began to grow in population, they began moving into Mexico (currently Texas) and forcibly taking their lands. War broke out and Mexico eventually was defeated. With the Treaty of Guadalupein 1848, 100,000 Mexicans became homeless, foreigners in their own land. Although some tried to fight back and keep their homes it resulted in lynching and terror. After the war American companies began encroaching on Mexican turf again. At the end of the nineteenth century, they employed one fourth of Mexicans in factories, forcing them to work long hours and learn about American culture and ideals. In doing this, they devalued the peso and created a high unemployment rate throughout Mexico. For many Mexicans “the choice is to stay in Mexico and starve or move north and live” (32). These faceless, helpless, nameless illegal immigrants who create the border culture, risk their lives to come to the USA out of desperation. Anzaldúa ends the text by returning to the mestizos’ feeling of being trapped stating that “This is her home, this thin edge of barbwire” (35).
In chapter six, Anzaldúa argues that Latinos consider art and everyday life to be intimately connected. To them, art is a living, breathing thing which has human needs. Anzaldúa considers each of her writings to be a performance. They are not dead, like Western art, but rather they each have a distinct identity and come vibrantly alive with each reading. While she considers her novel to be like multiple layers of paint, smooth at times and rough at others, dead Western art is something completely intact and in control. It does not contain the level of emotion and passion and incompleteness that makes both our lives and Mexican art real and special.
A Mestizo is a person of both Native American and European ancestry. At the beginning of the 16th century, the Spanish invaded and conquered Mexico. What was once a population of twenty five million Indian people was reduced to under seven million by the end of the Conquest. By 1650, only one and a half million pure-blooded Indians remained. Because the Mestizos were equipped genetically to handle the Old World diseases such as small pox, the measles, and typhus, they were able to found a new hybrid race and inherit Central and South America.
Aztlan, or the homeland, is what Anzuldúa describes as "two worlds merging to form a third country - a border culture" (25). The previously Spanish owned, and then Mexican owned territory would be comprised of what is now Texas, Colorado, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Nevada. It is a place which is difficult to define, because its inhabitants do not really feel like they belong in Mexico or in the United States. They are the "squint-eyed, the perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulatto, the half-breed, the half-dead..." (25). Although it is clear Anzuldúa is troubled by the quality of life for the Chicano in Aztlan, many people in the United States worry about the Aztlan for a different reason: They believe that the Aztlan puts the United States in danger of mass illegal immigration, and possibly even the succession of part of the country. 
Relation to Modernity: Us verses Them
In his Modern keyword essay, Chandan Reddy describes how the concept of non-modern changed from old to backward due mainly to colonialism. This change had an incredible effect on the mindset of Europeans and North Americans. They began to see other cultures, such as those in Mexico, as primitive and beneath them. They saw it as their job, or burden, to help non-Anglo cultures by modernizing them. In fact, many people in the United States believed in the Manifest Destiny, that the United States was actually destined to and God wanted them to spread throughout America. This ideology is important to understand when reading Borderlands; The ideas and beliefs of Anglo North Americans allowed them to justify pushing the Mexicans from their land, and led them to force American culture onto Mexicans. This new stronger distinction between modern and traditional, us and them, also caused Europeans and North Americans to have a certain fear for "primitive" cultures, thinking of them as unrefined and dangerous. This, according to Anzaldúa, is the reasoning behind the United States/Mexican border; Americans want to keep the scary, corrupt, criminal Mexicans safely locked behind a fence.
Connections to Who Would Have Thought It?
The us-verses-them phenomenon also takes a huge role in the novel Who Would Have Thought It? by Maria Ruiz de Burton. Ruiz de Burton shows similar tensions in regards to race as Anzaldúa does in Borderlands. The white society in Who Would Have Thought It? is considered more trustworthy, intelligent and better than those with color. Even the main character Lola, who was at one time thought to be of either black or Indian descent, shows that she too sees the superiority of her pale skin. In Borderlands, white people are always trusted to cross the border whereas those of Mexican descent are never trusted even if they are doing so legally.
Of Iron and Tortillas
"Beneath the iron sky
Mexican children kick their soccer ball across,
Run after, entering the U.S.
I press my hand to the steel curtain—
Chainlink fence crowned with rolled barbed wire—
Rippling from the sea where Tijuana touches San Diego
Unrolling over mountains
This 'Tortilla Curtain' turning into el rio Grande
Flowing down to the flatlands
Of the Magic Valley of South Texas
Its mouth emptying into the Gulf."
Within this passage, Anzaldúa is alluding to the so-called “Iron Curtain,” a boundary formed after World War II that divided Europe in two. It separated the Warsaw Pact countries (communist countries influenced by the Soviet Union) from the NATO countries with physical as well as ideological boundaries. Anzaldúa sees the same rift in the North American continent between the U.S. and Mexico. There is clearly a physical border between the two, represented by the “chainlink fence crowned with rolled barbed wire,” but at the same time, something less tangible than a border fence is splitting the people of the two countries. A racial divide exists between the countries, in which the Anglo whites are oppressing the Mexican people, treating them as lesser beings, as “other.” This “Tortilla Curtain” is preventing an intermixing of peoples, forcing an unequal segregation upon them. It keeps the two sides from understanding one another, from laying aside their differences and coming together. It is the U.S.’s way of keeping itself from the unknown and dissimilar.
A Bridge Between Worlds
“Yo soy un puente tendido
Del mundo gabacho al del mojado
Lo pasado me estira pa’ ‘trás
Y lo presente pa’ ‘delante
Que la Virgen de Guadalupe me cuide
Ay ay ay, soy mexicana de este lado”
English Translation: "I am a bridge
from the gringo world to the that of the wetback
the past pulls me behind
and the present pulls me forward
May the Virgin of Guadalupe take care of me
Ay ay ay, I am Mexican of this side"
This passage in many ways sums up the entirety of this excerpt from Anzaldúa’s book. Anzaldúa is feeling the strain from the demands of both the U.S. and Mexico. She experiences a kind of “double consciousness” as she struggles to find her identity, torn between her Mexican heritage and her American home, much in the same way that Paul Gilroy feels about his dual identity as both African and European. She goes on to say that she feels her true home is the “thin edge of barbed wire,” the physical border of the “Tortilla Curtain.” Her use of the derogatory terms “gabacho” (gringo, for white people) and mojado (wetback, for Mexicans) further illustrates the mutual animosity between the two peoples; the whites fear those branded as “other,” while the Mexicans feel resentment because they are imprisoned within their own country, unable to search for better lives with the United States without fear of persecution and discrimination. The fact that Anzaldúa shifts from English to Spanish for this stanza (as well as a number of others) is also symbolic in itself. This change further demonstrates the rift in Anzaldúa’s sense of self. Her home is somewhere between the American world and the Mexican world, and she illustrates this by exchanging one country’s language for the other throughout her essay.
Additional Works by Anzaldúa
With AnaLouise Keating. Interviews/Entrevistas. New York: Routledge, 2000.
With AnaLouise Keating. this bridge we call home: radical visions for transformation. New York: Routledge, 2002.
Prietita and the Ghost Woman/ Prietita y la Llorona. San Francisco: Children's Book Press, 2001.
Friends from the Other Side / Amigos del Otro Lado. San Francisco: Children's Book Press, 1993.
"Ms. Right, My True Love, My Soul Mate." Lesbian Love Stories, Volume 2. Ed. Zahava. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1991. 184-188.
Prietita Has a Friend (1991).
"She Ate Horses." Lesbian Philosophies and Cultures. Ed. Allen. Albany: NY: State University of New York Press, 1990. 371-388.
"La Historia de una Marimacha." 1989.
Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1990)
"People Should Not Die in June in South Texas." 1985.
"El Paisano is a Bird of Good Omen." 1982.
With Cherrie Moraga, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color (San Francisco: Kitchen Table Press, 1981).