Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa, a widely-acclaimed Chicana writer and theorist on mestiza consciousness and the borderlands, daughter of Amalia García and Urbano Anzaldúa, was born on September 26, 1942, in Raymondville, Texas. After graduating from Edinburg High School in 1962, Anzaldúa attended Texas Woman’s University for one year but had to leave due to financial difficulties. She returned home and enrolled at Pan American University (now part of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley) and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1968. Afterwards, she taught in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District while attending summer school at the University of Texas at Austin. She received a master’s degree in English from UT in 1972 and began working towards a Ph.D. in comparative literature. While at UT, she was first exposed to Chicano and feminist activism, and in 1977 she decided to move to California and devote herself to writing.
Anzaldúa’s upbringing in the discriminatory settings of the Rio Grande Valley informed her later research and writing about the region, particularly in her book Borderlands = La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987). Borderlands is a semi-autobiographical work that incorporates Anzaldúa’s family history into the larger history of the U.S.-Mexico border, which she describes as “una herida abierta [an open wound] where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds.” Anzaldúa interweaves her family stories against the backdrop of key events from Spanish colonization to the Mexican War to the development of mass agribusiness that displaced small Chicano and Chicana landowners such as her grandmother.
In Borderlands, Anzaldúa theorized her experience as someone existing at the intersection of Chicano and Anglo cultures, a person of the borderlands. She described the borderlands as both the geographic U.S.-Mexico border and the psychic challenges of navigating the tensions between multiple identities. In the chapter entitled “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Anzaldúa recalled her experience in South Texas public schools, where teachers punished her and others for speaking Spanish. In contextualizing her own experience within the broader suppression of Spanish in the Texas educational system at the time, Anzaldúa described being denied her language as a form of “linguistic terrorism.” Throughout Borderlands, Anzaldúa drew connections between her experiences being bilingual in Texas and her experiences as a woman, lesbian, and feminist. Anzaldúa suggested a self-reflective process by which Chicanas can contend with marginalization in the borderlands by scrutinizing the ways Anglo and Chicano cultures have oppressed them and by developing “a new mestiza consciousness.” She further proposed that, for Chicanas, surviving the liminal space of the borderlands between cultures could become a transformative experience.
In collaboration with Cherríe Moraga, Anzaldúa coedited the highly acclaimed This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981), winner of the Before Columbus American Book Award. Anzaldúa also edited Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color (1990) and several other books. She authored children’s books, including Friends from the Other Side = Amigos del otro lado (1993) and Prietita and the Ghost Woman = Prietita y la Llorona (1995), a variation of the Mexican folk legend of La Llorona (“The Weeping Woman”).
Anzaldúa died in Santa Cruz, California, on May 14, 2004, due to complications from diabetes and was buried at Valle de la Paz Cemetery in Hidalgo County, Texas. At the time, she was a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, which posthumously awarded her a Ph.D. in literature. Anzaldúa has long been recognized for her significant contributions in several academic fields, including American Studies, ethnic studies, feminist theory, literary studies, queer studies, women’s studies, and social justice movements and has received numerous awards, including the National Endowment for the Arts Fiction Award, the Lambda Lesbian Small Press Book Award, the Lesbian Rights Award, and the American Studies Association Lifetime Achievement Award. Scholars gather to discuss Anzaldúa’s work and legacy every eighteen months at a conference hosted by the Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa, an organization founded in 2007. Her papers are archived at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas at Austin.