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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Gloria Anzaldúa
(b. 1942)

When Gloria Anzaldúa describes the United States and Mexico border as “una herida abierta” (an open wound), she speaks from her lived experience as a native border dweller. Born in the ranch settlement of Jesus Maria in South Texas, Anzaldúa grew up in the small town of Hargill, Texas. She currently writes and teaches in northern California. In her poetry, fiction, essays, and autobiography, she writes eloquently of the indignities a Chicana lesbian feminist overcomes as she escapes the strictures of patriarchal Chicano traditions and confronts the injustices of dominant culture.

Her highly acclaimed text, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, interweaves autobiography, history of the Chicana/o Southwest, essay, autobiography, and poetry in a manner that defies traditional categorization. Chicana mestizaje in the late twentieth century can be seen as a new genre that describes the cultural and linguistic global connections between Chicana writers and writers of the Americas. The bilingual title of her book illustrates the transcultural experience of border dwellers and border consciousness. English and Spanish co-exist for Mexican-descent people of the borderlands. In Anzaldúa’s text, the pre-conquest language, Nahuatl, mixes with English and Spanish. Likewise, the Chicana language Anzaldúa deploys in this text can be said to be a new Chicana language, one that legitimizes the intermingling of English and Spanish with indigenous Nahuatl.

In Borderlands Anzaldúa presents multiple issues that inform a radical political awareness. These issues culminate in what she calls a new consciousness for the women who examine and question the restrictions placed on them in the borderlands of the United States. In Anzaldúa’s political manifesto, a “new mestiza” emerges only after her oppositional consciousness develops.

The chapter “Entering into the Serpent” presents some cuentos (stories) border families tell their children. For Prieta, the narrator of this section, the story of the snake that slithers into a woman’s uterus and impregnates her provides the link to Anzaldúa’s “serpentine” feminist theory. The new mestiza’s task is to “winnow out the lies” as a Chicana feminist historian. She also provides alternative metaphors to the ones promoted by androcentric psychologists and priests. Anzaldúa’s new mestiza invokes Olmec myth when she asserts that “Earth is a coiled Serpent” and rewrites the origin of the Catholic Guadalupe, empowering her as a pre-Columbian “Coatlalopeuh, She Who Has Dominion Over Serpents.”

Like the constantly shifting identities of the Chicana in the contemporary world, the deities Anzaldúa unearths and names become a pantheon of possible feminist icons. Through these icons mestizas can unlearn the masculinist versions of history, religion, and myth. She methodically shows how both the “male-dominated Azteca-Mexica culture” and the post-conquest church established the binary of the virgen/puta (Virgin/whore) when they split Coatlalopeuh/Coatlicue/Tonantsi/Tlazolteotl/Cihuacoatl into good and evil, light and dark, sexual and asexual beings. Guadalupe, then, is Coatlalopeuh with “the serpent/sexuality out of her.”

Anzaldúa revises androcentric myths of the Chicano homeland, Aztlán, and of La Llorona (the Weeping Woman). She intertwines the familiar stories with new feminist threads so that her insistence on the recuperation of the feminist—the serpent—produces a tapestry at once familiar and radically different. While “la facultad” can be interpreted as a spiritual extrasensory perception, what Anzaldúa has in fact developed is the ability to rupture dominating belief systems that have been presented as ancient truths and accurate histories.

The second excerpt, “La conciencia de la mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness,” is the final chapter of the prose section of the book. In this essay, Anzaldúa summarizes her mestiza methodology. Mestiza methodology offers strategies for unearthing a razed indigenous history as a process of coming to consciousness as political agents of change. Mestizas can turn to pre-conquest history and historical sites such as the Aztec temples to recover women’s place in a past that has been satanized. With the new knowledge they learn of the central importance of female deities rendered passive with Western androcentric ideology. The mestiza/mestizo Aztec legacy focuses only on the blood sacrifices of this military power and further obscures the other indigenous tribal traditions that Aztec hegemony absorbed. Anzaldúa’s reclamation of Aztec deities and traditions begins a reformulation of Aztlán from a male nation-state to a feminist site of resistance.

For Anzaldúa, Chicana feminism and lesbian politics emerge as forces that give voice to her political agenda as a new mestiza, an identity that claims much more than the simple definition of mestizo (mixed blood) allows. In this section, Anzaldúa clearly presents her political ideology, which is historically grounded in the colonial legacy of the American Southwest in its relation to larger hemispheric events. In Borderlands, American and Mexican history, American and Mexican culture are contested fields.

Sonia Saldívar-Hull
University of California at Los Angeles

In the Heath Anthology
from Borderlands/La Frontera
      "Chapter 3: Entering into the Serpent" (1987)
      "Chapter 7: La conciencia de la mestiza/ Towards a New Consciousness" (1987)

Other Works
This Bridge Called My Back: Writing by Radical Women of Color, ed. with Cherrie Moraga (1981)
"El Paisano Is a Bird of Good Omen," Cuentos: Stories by Latinas (1983)
Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color, ed. (1990)

Cultural Objects
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The Myth of Homogeneity
An academic essay by Karen Lambeth May that uses Anzaldua among others to "examine the complexity of the assimilation process."

Gloria Anzaldua
A biographical sketch.

Making Face, Making Soul... A Chicana Feminist homepage
Provides information about Chicana issues and, tangentially, Anzaldua's contributions/roles therein.

Voices from the Gaps
This page provides a biography with some criticism, a bibliography of selected works, and links.

Secondary Sources