They say, too often, “a prophet is without honor in his/her own country.” Not so with Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa.
Born in 1942 to a South Texas Valley family, Anzaldúa graduated with a BA from Pan American College, Edinburg, Texas, in 1969. The 30th anniversary of her often-cited Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), has been subject of a year-long celebration by the Center for Mexican American Studies, “Nuestra Gloria.” (Dr. Zulmaris Díaz is interim director of the Center.) The ideas of this influential philosopher, Gloria Anzaldúa, and her life were discussed at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) this past Tuesday, 3 April 2018.
The guest speaker was author and personal confidant of Anzaldúa, Dr. AnaLouise Keating, professor of Multi-Cultural, Women’s, and Gender Studies, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, Texas. Over 50 students, professors, and visitors participated. Her lecture probed Anzaldua’s profound contributions to 21st century thought; questions were plentiful and spirited. That was due to the subject, the complicated and unique spirit of Gloria Anzaldua (RIP 2004).
According to Dr. Alexander Stehn, associate professor of Philosophy, UTRGV, Gloria is an “international treasure.” Many other scholars at the university join him, such as Dr. Cinthya Saavedra, director of Mexican American Studies Program. They publish prolifically and teach courses about Anzaldúa’s writings and philosophy. She is not only well known here but has reached world-wide acclaim, from China to Mexico.
The famous Nettie Lee Benson Collection, The University of Texas, Austin, houses many of her books and papers. Her often controversial themes in Borderlands were those of mestizaje–confluence or “mixing” — sexual, racial, geographical. Later, she explored the role of neplanteras, those who facilitate passage between worlds. Gloria earned her MA from UT Austin and a posthumous PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She died of complications from diabetes, but never stopped her avant garde thinking and assiduous work.
Dr. Stehn contends the Borderlands Room on campus should be re-named “The Gloria Anzaldúa Borderlands Room.” I agree. I agree also with fellow activist and guest, Jesus (Chuy) Ramírez, that we accept a role for ourselves as children of “Nepantla” (from the Nahuatl, for “in-between-space”), one of Gloria’s main concepts, as Keating explained. It parallels cultural anthropologist Victor Turner’s theory of “liminal space.” Dr. Keating is editor of The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, and co-editor with Anzaldúa of The Bridge Was Our Home. She also edited Anzaldúa’s last book, published posthumously, Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro.
Keating conveyed Gloria’s message further: people who exist in a zone of transition, with multiple, anguishing “crossovers” between borders (both physical and emotional) have a special role to play in creating new potential. She called for a “spiritual activism,” combining spirituality with politics to radically transform ourselves and the world for the better.
For her poetry and books, Gloria was awarded the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award, a Lambda literary award, and a National Endowment for the Arts fiction award. She encouraged all the creative arts and her writings “blend styles, cultures, and languages” (Linda Napikoski, Thought, 1 Dec 2017). Her demanding writing style may, at times, put off a mono-lingual speaker. She was a “voracious reader” (Keating) and blended many centuries and many disciplines; her journeys of the mind lure today’s readers to explore new aspects of their own minds and souls.
The rewards of Gloria’s “non-linear, experimental manner of expression,” as she intimates the ways in which “all our spirits” are interconnected, make the effort worthwhile. The result is a new perspective, a new “religion of the gut” (Keating). Anzaldúa sought to advance the place of women in Hispanic culture, and to support any who are marginalized. Certainly, these are major concerns of our times. The conference was timely, exhilarating and deeply satisfying. It was an honor to be in her presence.