Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/ La Fronteras Part 1: Powerful Passages

My book club read Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza for the month of October, and since finishing it, my mind continuously returns to multiple passages of this brave collection of writing. I feel my formal education—in all its Women & Gender Studies/ Literature/ Creative Writing- Poetry emphasis glory— neglected me by not introducing me to her work. But, I’m thankful for a continuous informal education that finds such pivotal bodies of writing to study at precious leisure (double clap for Book Clubs!)

While I have much commentary for this heart-wrenching, yet beautiful piece of soul-therapy, I want to honor her words by simply posting some of my favorite quotes. You deserve the right to sit with her words, and transcribe them for yourself.

All quotes are pulled from the fourth edition of Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Unless indicated, any italicize are from the author.


On Language

“So if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity—I am my language. Until I take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself. Until I can accept as legitimate Chicano Texas Spanish, Tex-Mex and all the other languages I speak, I cannot accept the legitimacy of myself. 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. (81)

On Writing

“The ability of story (prose and poetry) to transform the storyteller and the listener into something or someone else is shamanistic. The writer as shape-changer, is a nahual, a shaman” (88).

“When I write, it feels like I’m carving bone. It feels like I’m creating my own face, my own heart—a Nahuatl concept. My soul makes itself through the creative act” (95).

On Being la Mestiza

“So don’t give me your tenets and your laws. Don’t give me your lukewarm gods. What I want is an accounting with all three cultures—white, Mexican, Indian. I want freedom to carve and chisel my own face, to staunch the bleeding with ashes, to fashion my own gods out of entrails. And if going home is denied me then I will have to stand and claim my space, making a new culture—una cultura mestiza—with my own lumber, my own bricks and mortar and own feminist architecture” (44).

“The new mestiza copes by developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity. She learns to be an Indian in Mexican culture, to be Mexican from an Anglo point of view. She learns to juggle cultures. She has a plural personality, she operates in a pluralistic mode—nothing is thrust out, the good, the bad, and the ugly, nothing rejected, nothing abandoned. Not only does she sustain contradictions, she returns the ambivalence into something else” (101).

En unas pocas centurias, the future will belong to the mestiza. Because the future depends on the breaking down of paradigms, it depends on the straddling of two or more cultures. By creating a new mythos—that is, a change in the way we perceive reality, the way we see ourselves, and the ways we behave—la mestiza creates a new consciousness” (102).


Stanzas from Poems about the Boarders

“Wind tugging at my sleeve

feet sinking into the sand

I stand at the edge where earth touches ocean

where the two overlap

a gentle coming together

at other times and places a violent crash” (23).

“But the skin of the earth is seamless.

The sea cannot be fenced,

El mar does not stop at borders.

To show the white man what she thought of his


Yemaya blew that wire fence down” (25)

“To survive the Borderlands

   You must live sin fronteras 

   be a crossroads” (217)

The passage that is rearranging some of my thinking …

“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 dominate culture’s views and beliefs, and, for this, it 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 the 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” (100-101; italics mine).


Cultural Competency 101: Honoring My Name, Your Name, and Our Students’ Names

Each year, I’m excited to learn my students’ names. After receiving my class roster, I practice each one over and over again, committing to pronouncing each name the way their families intended for them to be said. When I meet my students, I plead that they correct me if I say their name wrong. At first, my students think I’m being ridiculous– for some, their names have always been mispronounced at school. After a short time, however, they get on board and correct me and each other when a name is mispronounced. My dedication to correctly pronouncing my students’ names is partly due to my experiences with my own name.

My first name is Kirsti, as in Kear-stie. My name has six letters, two syllables, and was easy to learn how to spell (this bothered me as a child; I really wanted a name with at least three syllables). To my surprise, however, my name— with its two syllables, and six letters—was not easy for other people to say.





and so on,

became replacements for the thoughtful choice my mom made when choosing a name for me. While some accidentally mispronounced my name (that’s fair), there were many who simply refused to say it correctly.

“It’s too hard,” was a repeated excuse.

“Your name is actually Kur-stie; why would your mother name you Kirsti,” my British Art History professor told me (I mark his nationality here, because in the UK, Kirsti is a common name, but is often pronounced Kur-stie).

“Can I just call you something else?” a few have had the audacity to suggest.

As a child, people’s difficulty with my name felt like a continuous rejection of a part of my identity, creating the desire to rename myself. To make introductions and role-calls more pleasant, I wanted a name everyone could say, and would say—like Mariah. In elementary school, with the 90s as its backdrop, Mariah seemed like a doable name. With changing my name, I may have lost part of my identity, but at least I was choosing what others would call me. I could have been 3-syllable Ma-ri-ah.

Fortunately, as I got older, I learned to appreciate my name. I appreciated the story that goes with it—my mother looking at our family tree in the hospital (I was supposed to be a Jacob). Me, lying there mysterious, and nameless for a bit. My nana ‘encouraging’ my mom to name me after a Finnish relative. My mother choosing Kirsti, deciding to take the accent mark off of the final ‘i’, because she thought it would be easier for people to say. Kear-stee, rather than Kear-ste.

It’s a nice, cuddly kinda’ story that gets misplaced when people call me Kristy, or Kirsten. It’s a story of my family trying mark my Finnish identity, when many wouldn’t know, by looking at me, that I come from a strong Finnish lineage. But it’s a story that lost its identity when my professor told me I was wrongly named. And my name loses its story each time someone refuses to say my name as it’s intended to be said- Kear-stee.

I keep such personal experiences close to my heart each year, as I learn the names of my scholars.

1. Maria (Muh-dee-a)

2. Ismael (Eas-MY-El)

3. Dei’Ajhanae (Dee-aw-ju-nay)

4. Xochitl (so-chee/l)

5. Angeles (On-hu-les)

6. Damonie (Day-mon-ee)

7. Isileli (Ee-si-le-ly

While learning each student’s name, I try to honor that each students’ name holds a story of why they were gifted this identity-marker. When I don’t know how to say a name, I ask colleagues for support. And on the first day of class, I do what I want my students to always do; I try my best.

While Don Draper reminds us in Mad Men, that people often change their name, and have the right to make such decisions for themselves, we don’t have the right to change someone else’s name. When we take part in the practice of re-naming people, we are partaking in unwarranted power that creates distance between ourselves and the person we’re renaming. If we care about fostering meaningful relationships with each other, and especially with students, then we must not only learn to say names correctly, but we must also honor each story that precedes it.

Some people may say that names are just names- that I shouldn’t make a big deal over them, but I always will. Names are the first gifts we receive from our family—some who are alive, some who have passed away. We’re named after relatives, our family’s heroes, and sometimes, our names are created by our parents. Names begin to tell our stories, our backgrounds, and our identities. They’re afforded to individuals, regardless of economic and racial backgrounds, and we should all be afforded the right to have our names respectfully pronounced with the most possible precision.

For a more comedic approach on how ridiculous it to rename folks, check out this Key and Peele sketch that I first saw on the Deconstructing Myths blog. I recently watched it again, and new I had to share.