Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

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Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza
Borderlands La Frontera (Anzaldua book).jpg
Author Gloria Anzaldúa
Cover artist Pamela Wilson
Country United States
Language English & Spanish
Genre Essay
Publisher Aunt Lute Books
Publication date
Media type Print (paperback)
Pages 260 pp.
ISBN 978-1-879960-12-1

Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza is a 1987 semi-autobiographical work by Gloria E. Anzaldúa that includes prose and poems by the author. The book discusses various forms of invisible “borders” that exist in numerous opposing groups – Latino/as and whites, men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals, etc. The prose section of the book outlines a short history of the people who have inhabited the Mexico region, beginning with the oldest known inhabitants of what is now the United States and ending in the present day. The poetry section includes several poems composed by the author that are centered on the theme and various forms of borders.

Each of the essays and poems draws on the author’s life experiences as Chicana and lesbian activist. In both prose and poetry sections, Anzaldúa challenges the conception of a border as a simple divide and ultimately calls for the oppressors, especially those from the Western culture, to nurture active interest in the oppressed and change their attitudes that foster the growth and sustenance of borders.[1]

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, but it does something more; it sociologically and psychologically affects us. She 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. By switching from Spanish to English, Anzaldúa gives the impression that she is tied to both cultures.

According to Anzaldúa, the reason that borders exist is to separate the good from the bad, the safe from the dangerous, us from them. She claims that when those of color cross the border, whether legitimately or not, they are “raped, maimed, strangled, gassed, [and] shot.” White people, on the other hand, have a free pass to cross the border as often as they like, legally or illegally. In the early parts of her book that is composed of series of essays and prose works, she deeply engages the readers with tension and conflicts between Latino/as and whites that have continued and survived for centuries in forms of such physical borders. And she further goes on to discuss psychological, historical, and social borders.

In order to talk about such borders and liberations from them, Anzaldúa draws from several Chicano/a heritage and cultures. For example, she introduces Tlazolteotl, the lustful goddess from Aztec mythology, to portray how women have been enslaved by men. The power of procreation, which is inevitably linked to sexual acts, endowed on women is presented as something that should be restricted in patriarchal culture.[2] However, the author also uses the same example to liberate women from oppressive borders of sex. The power to give birth is equal to the work of creation; thus women are endowed with creative power that men shall never have.[3]

In this semi-autobiographical account, Anzaldúa comes to terms with her Chicana lesbian identity to recognize the components of its existence. Not only does her lesbian nature have traces of both male and female identities, but her culture is a mixture of many different races and cultures. By using both English and Spanish in her writing, she demonstrates that the Chicana literature cannot be expressed in only one language. She even references eight of the other borderland languages which she knows. Cultural identity is very important to Anzaldua, but she claims that "culture is made by those in power –men. Males make the rules and laws; women transmit them."[4] By emerging beyond the limits of either American or Mexican culture, Chicana literature provides a voice to the people of the borderlands.

She also 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 Hernán Cortés. At this time the mestizo, part Spanish, part native, arose. 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 Guadalupe in 1848 100,000 Mexicans became homeless. 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.” These undocumented immigrants who create the border culture, risk their lives to come to the United States 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.”[citation needed]

In addition to the physical border between America and Mexico, and the linguistic border between Spanish and English, Anzaldua also explores the borders of gender and sexuality in La Frontera/Borderlands. A self described, "chicana dyke-feminist, tejana patlache, poet, writer, and cultural theorist" she is interested in the cultural response to a figure like herself that straddles so many different borders.[5] In a section of her essay entitled “Cultural Tyranny” she claims that “culture expects women to show greater acceptance or, and commitment to the value system than men” and that these expectations form women’s identities and their ‘role’ in society.[6]

Anzaldúa also discusses various forms of communication, in addition to the art of writing, in relation to the invisible border between the white culture and the Latin culture. For example, she talks about the way Latino/as and whites treat works of visual art. To Latin culture and its people, art is a living, breathing thing which has human needs; and they treat works of art not as objects but as persons, offering sacrifices and feeding and even bathing them. In contrast, Western cultures and their people treat art as mere objects for bragging and decorating small corners of their residences. They do not treat works of art as living creatures,“housing their art works in the best structures designed by the best architects…servicing them with insurance, guards to protect them, conservators to maintain them, specialists to mount and display them, and the educated and upper classes to ‘view’ them."[7] Thus they cannot connect deeply with works of art as those from Latin cultures can.

The book ends with poems that compress the theme and ideas of various borders that have been discussed in the essay section. She allows readers to look for different forms of borders and ponder upon themselves of how they are presented and regarded in her poems.


  1. ^ Koegeler-Abdi, Martina. "Shifting Subjectivities: Mestizas, Nepantleras, and Gloria Anzaldúa’s Legacy". Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Hartley, George. ""Matriz sin tumba": The Trash Goddess and the Healing Matrix of Gloria Anzaldúa’s Reclaimed Womb". Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  3. ^ Hartley, George. ""Matriz sin tumba": The Trash Goddess and the Healing Matrix of Gloria Anzaldúa’s Reclaimed Womb". Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  4. ^ 1018. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, Eds., Literary Theory: An Anthology
  5. ^
  6. ^ Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, Eds., Literary Theory: An Anthology, p.1019
  7. ^ Anzaldúa, Gloria (2012). Borderlands/La Frontera: the New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books. p. 90. 

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