Gloria Anzaldúa, feminist, queer, disabled, Chicana writer and activist, would’ve turned 75 today.
Most well-known for her first book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Anzaldúa’s work asks us to enter nepantla — those painful, in-between spaces where transformation and healing can happen. She likens nepantla to the experiences of border crossers, who also move within and among multiple worlds and whose lives refuse to be boxed into a single identity or category. She argues that our mestizaje — our in-betweenness and our multiplicity — opens us up to dangers and woundings but also allows us to develop unique, transformative modes of thinking.
Refusing to “tame her wild tongue” or allow “labels to split her open,” Anzaldúa — the healer of la herida abierta (the open wound) and “curandera of conquest” — is one of the most important twentieth-century feminist theorists. Here are five quotes from Anzaldúa to inspire your resistance and inch you closer to nepantla:
On writing as an act of resistance and communal care:
Why am I compelled to write? Because the writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and hunger. I write to record what others erase when I speak, to rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you. To become more intimate with myself and you. To discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self-autonomy . . . Finally, I write because I’m scared of writing but I’m more scared of not writing.
On spiritual excavation and the intimacies of resistance:
No nos podemos quedar paradas con los brazos cruzados en media del presente. (We can’t afford to stop in the middle of the bridge with arms crossed.) And yet to act is not enough. Many of us are learning to sit perfectly still, to sense the presence of the Soul and commune with Her. We are beginning to realize that we are not wholly at the mercy of circumstance, nor are our lives completely out of our hands . . . We are each accountable for what is happening down the street, south of the border or across the sea. And those of us who have more of anything: brains, physical strength, political power, spiritual energies, are learning to share them with those that don’t have. We are learning to depend more and more on our own sources for survival, learning not to let the weight of this burden, the bridge, break our backs. Haven’t we always borne jugs of water, children, poverty? Why not learn to bear baskets of hope, love, self-nourishment and to step lightly? Caminante, no hay puentes, se hacen puentes al anger. (Voyager, there are no bridges, one builds them as one walks.)
On abandoning “the master’s tools” and developing our own strategies of resistance:
But it is not enough to stand on the opposite river bank, shouting questions, challenging patriarchal, white conventions. A counterstance locks one into a duel of oppressor and oppressed; locked in mortal combat, like the cop and the criminal, both are reduced to a common denominator of violence. The counterstance refutes the dominant culture’s views and beliefs, and, for, this, is proudly defiant. All reaction is limited by, and dependent on, what it is reacting against. Because the counterstance stems from a problem with authority — outer as well as inner — it’s a step towards liberation from cultural domination. But it is not a way of life. At some point, on our way to a new consciousness, we will have to leave the opposite bank, the split between the two mortal combatants somehow healed so that we are on both shores at once and, at once, see through serpent and eagle eyes. Or perhaps, we will decide to disengage from the dominant culture, write it off altogether as a lost cause, and cross the border into a wholly new and separate territory. Or we might go another route. The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react.
On “overcoming the tradition of silence”:
Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish, and as long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me, my tongue will be illegitimate. I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice: Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent’s tongue — my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.
On political struggle as a spiritual undertaking:
Activism is engaging in healing work. It means putting our hands in the dough and not merely thinking or talking about making tortillas. It means creating spaces and times for healing to happen, espacios y tiempos to nourish the soul . . . It’s frustrating when healing doesn’t happen immediately. Some of us choose to slow down the healing work or choose not to heal because we’ve become familiar and comfortable with our wounds. We may be afraid that our entire life will change if we heal. And it will . . . plunge your hands into the mess, plunge your hands en la masa, into embodied practical material spiritual political acts.
Header image via Dartmouth.