In Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Gloria Anzaldua uses an interpretive history of her culture to emphasize the bigger picture of its struggle to escape fragmentation and prejudice. She begins by defining the Southwestern U.S. as Aztlán, the homeland of the Aztecs. From there, she recounts how that land area was passed down through multicultural generations by means of invasion, conquest, war, and ideological struggle. Perhaps one of her most important premises is that, for many years now, a new culture has developed out of this chaos: “a third country – a border culture” (Anzaldua 25). Using the land as a parallel for the social situation of its inhabitants, she says, “It is a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants” (Anzaldua 25). Based on my limited experience with this region – through reading, hearsay, news, and travel – I can largely agree with this premise. The current debate over immigration, though far from new, seems more violent than ever; as the arguments progress, they are revealed more and more to be based on simple racism and irrational fear.
However, I do think that Anzaldua should be careful with some of her generalizations. Just after she laments the unfair judgment of a culture, she says, “Gringos in the U.S. Southwest consider the inhabitants of the borderlands transgressors, aliens – whether they possess documents or not…” (Anzaldua 25). Many, of course, do; but there are also many white people who are sympathetic to the plight of those living in the Borderlands. I think that she could have articulated her point better by emphasizing that this is how Chicanos feel, as she does in other sections.
Another aspect of her rhetoric is also, in my opinion, actually problematic. On page 27, the author elaborates on the gender symbolism of the Aztecs, describing their reverent connection to certain animals and phenomena of the natural world, as well as the ways these represent conflict and oppression. This is a perfectly legitimate connection, and one that is mostly helpful in supporting her historical claims for misogyny. However, I feel that her reliance on indigenous symbolism of “natural” connection is an example of a perpetuation of the stereotypes of Indian cultures in and of itself, even though she is speaking as a descendent of several of those cultures. Even as she laments the pigeonholing of her culture, her argument fails to separate itself from the problem.
At large, though, I am very appreciative of her restatement of many historical events from the Mexican perspective. Namely, the account of the Alamo as “the symbol for the cowardly and villainous character of the Mexicans [that] legitimized the white imperialist takeover” (Anzaldua 28) is very important. Although she doesn’t explicitly utter the phrase, she recounts the horrific results of Americans’ desire to realize the dream of “Manifest Destiny.” Likewise, her claim that the new traffic “from south to north” is “the return odyssey to the historical/mythological Aztlán” (Anzaldua 33) is bold but poignant.
Another premise – that “Culture forms our beliefs” (Anzaldua 38), is reminiscent of Foucault. She makes the generalization on page 40 that “ambition [is] condemned in the Mexican culture and valued in the Anglo [culture],” and that it only brings “envy.” Although I believe she is probably a bit unfair with this claim, I do see the evidence for it, and her claim that “What we are suffering from is an absolute despot duality that says we are able to be only one or the other” (Anzaldua 41) seems to ring true.
Some additional points that I found interesting: her statement that “We shiver in separate cells in enclosed cities” (Anzaldua 42), her opinion about the way her “colored and colorless sisters glorify their colored culture’s values… to offset the extreme devaluation of it by the white culture” (Anzaldua 44), and her claim that “because we internalize how our language has been used against us by the dominant culture, we use our language differences against each other” (Anzaldua 80). All of these statements can relate to one another in that they reflect the utter fragmentation that has resulted from the imperialistic drive that continues today.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. La Frontera/Borderlands. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987. Print.