The term “intersectionality,” coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, refers to how race, gender, class, and other aspects of identity overlap to shape how an individual experiences the world. Two years before Crenshaw coined the term, Gloria Anzaldúa’s foundational book Borderlands/La Frontera presented a life that exists at the border of languages, countries, and cultures, boldly claiming a blended, transgressive identity that Anzaldúa calls the “new mestiza.” Anzaldúa’s unapologetic assertion of her rich experience as a Chicana, tejana lesbian resonates all too well in our current political moment, when Trump’s administration is dehumanizing and attacking immigrants and people of color. For example, we can hear Anzaldúa’s influence reflected in the words of Congresswoman llhan Omar, who noted during a recent appearance on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee that she believes Trump is “terrified at the fact that I sit on the intersectionality of many identities that he really despises: a woman, an immigrant, Muslim, refugee, and Punjabi in one beautiful package.”
On Sunday, October 20th, performers and listeners gathered at Performance Space New York to pay homage to Anzaldúa’s work with a marathon reading of Borderlands. Organized by writer Sarah Schulman with co-programming by visual artist Shellyne Rodriguez, writer Charles Rice-Gonzáles, and Society for the Study of Gloria E. Anzaldúa founder Norma Cantú, the reading was the third installment in Schulman’s Marathon Reading Series dedicated to highlighting “important, influential, and experimental work by women who have passed away, to collectively remember their words.” The event included nearly 50 readers, along with introductions by poet Cherríe Moraga — with whom Anzaldúa co-edited the groundbreaking anthology of writing by radical women of color This Bridge Called My Back — as well as Borderlands publisher Joan Pinkvoss of Aunt Lute Books, UC Santa Barbara Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies Aída Hurtado, a group of Anzaldúa’s friends from Texas (Kay Turner, Santa Barazza, Randy P. Conner, David Hatfield Sparks, and Josh Franco), and others. “This year, Borderlands felt so relevant because of the way Latinos have been singled out to become these objects of hostility from the Trump administration,” Schulman told me. “The book is dedicated ‘to Mexicans everywhere.’” Schulman said she chose to organize a reading of Borderlands because of its present-day relevance, and because she wanted to help bring the work to new audiences. By bringing together friends, scholars, and collaborators of Anzaldúa alongside younger Latinx writers who never knew the author personally, the hours-long reading was a palpable testament to Borderlands’ continually vital message. Many of the event’s participants noted the profound influence that Borderlands has had on their own lives and work. Irene Lara, a writer and professor of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University, talked about reading the book as a college student. “[Borderlands] gave me words to be aware of how much I was yearning to belong, and to succeed,” Lara said, “and at the same time realize that those definitions of belonging and success were colonial definitions I had swallowed from the outside, and I needed to release them and let them go.”
Radical in both form and content, Borderlands claims the border between Mexico and the U.S. as a metaphor for various aspects of identity — cultural, sexual, and spiritual. In addition to being one of the first works to center Chicana queerness, Borderlands combines poetry and prose, including history and myth alongside personal stories, and blends English, Castilian Spanish, North Mexican Spanish, Tex-Mex, and indigenous dialects to form what Anzaldúa calls “a new language — the language of the Borderlands.” The book’s refusal to use a single language, or to offer translation, forces readers to recognize the full dimensionality of the speaker’s experience. As Anzaldúa writes in the preface to Borderlands, “we Chicanos no longer feel that we need to beg entrance.”
In her introduction to the reading, Moraga talked about the process of editing This Bridge Called My Back, beginning with a call for submissions that focused on critiquing white women’s racism. She described the anthology’s evolution: “It ended up that the discussion of white women’s racism was in one chapter, and all the rest was about us; our relationships with each other, and it totally switched to something much more profound and important to us than studying white women.” In that same spirit, the mix of reader’s and speaker’s voices that filled the room with Anzaldúa’s words served as a powerful antidote to the violent racism and xenophobia that characterizes not just our current political moment but much of our country’s history. “She doesn’t need to become an icon,” Moraga continued, reflecting on Anzaldúa’s legacy. “What she needs is a recognition of her daily practice; of the specificity of her voice, the discipline of her work, and the worldview that comes from that.”
Marathon Reading of Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa took place on Sunday, October 20 at Performance Space New York (150 First Avenue, Fourth Floor, East Village). The event was organized by Sarah Schulman with Shellyne Rodriguez, Charles Rice-González and Norma Cantú. Borderlands/La Frontera is available on Amazon or at your local indie bookstore.