Thirty-two wide-ranging voices pay tribute to the late Gloria Anzaldúa, the beloved poet and fiction writer who redefined lesbian and Chicana/o identities for thousands of readers.
The inspirational writings of cultural theorist and social justice activist Gloria Anzaldúa have empowered generations of women and men throughout the world. Charting the multiplicity of Anzaldúa's impact within and beyond academic disciplines, community trenches, and international borders, Bridging presents more than thirty reflections on her work and her life, examining vibrant facets in surprising new ways and inviting readers to engage with these intimate, heartfelt contributions.
Bridging is divided into five sections: The New Mestizas: "transitions and transformations"; Exposing the Wounds: "You gave me permission to fly in the dark"; Border Crossings: Inner Struggles, Outer Change; Bridging Theories: Intellectual Activism with/in Borders; and "Todas somos nos/otras": Toward a "politics of openness." Contributors, who include Norma Elia Cantú, Elisa Facio, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Aída Hurtado, Andrea Lunsford, Denise Segura, Gloria Steinem, and Mohammad Tamdgidi, represent a broad range of generations, professions, academic disciplines, and national backgrounds. Critically engaging with Anzaldúa's theories and building on her work, they use virtual diaries, transformational theory, poetry, empirical research, autobiographical narrative, and other genres to creatively explore and boldly enact future directions for Anzaldúan studies.
A book whose form and content reflect Anzaldúa's diverse audience, Bridging perpetuates Anzaldúa's spirit through groundbreaking praxis and visionary insights into culture, gender, sexuality, religion, aesthetics, and politics. This is a collection whose span is as broad and dazzling as Anzaldúa herself.
- Con profunda gratitud
- Building Bridges, Transforming Loss, Shaping New Dialogues: Anzaldúan Studies for the Twenty-First Century (AnaLouise Keating and Gloria González-López)
- I. The New Mestizas: "transitions and transformations"
- 1. Bridges of conocimiento: Una conversación con Gloria Anzaldúa (Lorena M. P. Gajardo)
- 2. A Letter to Gloria Anzaldúa Written from 30, Feet and 25 Years after Her "Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to 3rd-World Women Writers" (ariel robello)
- 3. Deconstructing the Immigrant Self: The Day I Discovered I Am a Latina (Anahí Viladrich)
- 4. My Path of Conocimiento: How Graduate School Transformed Me into a Nepantlera (Jessica Heredia)
- 5. Aprendiendo a Vivir/Aprendiendo a Morir (Norma Elia Cantú)
- 6. Making Face, Rompiendo Barreras: The Activist Legacy of Gloria E. Anzaldúa (Aída Hurtado)
- II. Exposing the Wounds: "You gave me permission to fly into the dark"
- 7. Anzaldúa, Maestra (Sebastián José Colón-Otero)
- 8. "May We Do Work That Matters": Bridging Gloria Anzaldúa across Borders (Claire Joysmith)
- 9. A Call to Action: Spiritual Activism . . . an Inevitable Unfolding (Karina L. Céspedes)
- 10. Gloria Anzaldúa and the Meaning of Queer (Héctor Domínguez-Ruvalcaba)
- 11. Breaking Our Chains: Achieving Nos/otras Consciousness (Lei Zhang)
- 12. Conocimiento and Healing: Academic Wounds, Survival, and Tenure (Gloria González-López)
- III. Border Crossings: Inner Struggles, Outer Change
- 13. Letters from Nepantla: Writing through the Responsibilities and Implications of the Anzaldúan Legacy (Michelle Kleisath)
- 14. Challenging Oppressive Educational Practices: Gloria Anzaldúa on My Mind, in My Spirit (Betsy Eudey)
- 15. Living Transculturation: Confessions of a Santero Sociologist (Glenn Jacobs)
- 16. Acercándose a Gloria Anzaldúa to Attempt Community (Paola Zaccaria)
- 17. Learning to Live Together: Bridging Communities, Bridging Worlds (Shelley Fisher Fishkin)
- 18. Risking the Vision, Transforming the Divides: Nepantlera Perspectives on Academic Boundaries, Identities, and Lives (AnaLouise Keating)
- IV. Bridging Theories: Intellectual Activism with/in Borders
- 19. "To live in the borderlands means you" (Mariana Ortega)
- 20. A Modo de Testimoniar: Borderlands, Papeles, and U.S. Academia (EstheR Cuesta)
- 21. On Borderlands and Bridges: An Inquiry into Gloria Anzaldúa's Methodology (Jorge Capetillo-Ponce)
- 22. For Gloria, Para Mi (Mary Catherine Loving)
- 23. Chicana Feminist Sociology in the Borderlands (Elisa Facio and Denise A. Segura)
- 24. Embracing Borderlands: Gloria Anzaldúa and Writing Studies (Andrea A. Lunsford)
- V. Todas Somos Nos/otras: Toward a "Politics of Openness"
- 25. Hurting, Believing, and Changing the World: My Faith in Gloria Anzaldúa (Suzanne Bost)
- 26. Feels Like "Carving Bone": (Re)Creating the Activist-Self, (Re)Articulating Transnational Journeys, while Sifting through Anzaldúan Thought (Kavitha Koshy)
- 27. Shifting (Kelli Zaytoun)
- 28. "Darkness, My Night": The Philosophical Challenge of Gloria Anzaldúa's Aesthetics of the Shadow (María DeGuzmán)
- 29. The Simultaneity of Self- and Global Transformations: Bridging with Anzaldúa's Liberating Vision (Mohammad H. Tamdgidi)
- 30. For Gloria Anzaldúa . . . Who Left Us Too Soon (Gloria Steinem)
- 31. She Eagle: For Gloria Anzaldúa (Becky Thompson)
- Works Cited
- Published Writings by Gloria E. Anzaldúa
- Contributors' Biographies
By redeeming your most painful experiences, you transform them into something valuable, algo para compartir or share with others so they too may be empowered.
—Gloria Anzaldúa, "now let us shift"
In this epigraph, drawn from "now let us shift . . . the path of conocimiento . . . inner work, public acts," an essay written near the end of her life, Gloria Anzaldúa emphasizes the potentially redemptive power of suffering as she enacts a movement from the personal to the communal. But what does it mean, to "redeem" our "most painful experiences"? How do we "share" pain? How do we transform pain into "something valuable," into something that empowers ourselves and others? It can be tempting to ignore such bold, optimistic statements or to dismiss them as unrealistic and overly naïve. However, to reject these visionary assertions—which occur throughout Anzaldúa's work—overlooks a crucial element of her thought. Anzaldúa developed her transformative worldview in dialogue with the deeply painful situations and events she experienced throughout her life—racism, sexism, poverty, her father's death during her adolescence, early menstruation, diabetes, and numerous other health-related difficulties. As a careful examination of "now let us shift" and many of her other writings indicates, Anzaldúa draws from her personal experiences to develop a sophisticated theory and praxis of transformation that posits self-reflection and self-change as the foundation for social justice work. This experientially based, holistic approach to social change—which she develops in theories like El Mundo Zurdo, mestiza consciousness, conocimiento, and spiritual activism—entails a fluid, nonlinear, synergistic combination of self-reflection and outward-directed action. For Anzaldúa, "inner work" and "public acts" are so intimately interrelated as to be inseparable.
Like Anzaldúa, we believe that radical transformation begins with the personal but must move outward, linking self-change with social change. We, too, believe in the possibility of converting even our most difficult, painful situations and events into powerful lessons that can be applied to our lives, shared with others, and used to enact multilevel transformation. These lessons offer opportunities for community building and the creation of new forms of knowledge as well as pathways for additional individual and collective evolution and change.
To be sure, such transformations are neither automatic nor guaranteed. They require intense self-reflection and inner work, great determination, open-mindedness, and the willingness to risk the personal. "Risking the personal"—a phrase I (AnaLouise) coined to describe Anzaldúa's innovative use of autobiographical experience as a tool for community building, knowledge production, and social change—plays a key role in Anzaldúa's transformational process: "By incorporating her own life into her work, Anzaldúa transforms herself into a bridge and creates potential identifications with readers from diverse backgrounds. She models a process of self-disclosure which invites (and sometimes compels) us to take new risks as we reflect on our own experiences, penetrate the privacy of our own lives" (Keating, "Risking the Personal" 2). Risking the personal is central to Anzaldúa's activism and one of her key contributions to contemporary theory. As Kavitha Koshy notes in this volume, "This act, risking the personal, political, and spiritual, has been at the core of Anzaldúa's activism, where the visionary meets the pragmatist, and a spiritual activism combines with deliberate actions and physical pain to transform material realities."
Significantly, this self-disclosure and self-reflection are not (ever!) ends in themselves; they are, rather, part of a larger, recursive process. Although it sounds paradoxical, Anzaldúa's intense focus on the personal always leads outward, enabling her to develop new insights and make connections with others; with this new knowledge and these connections with others, she facilitates social change. Through her willingness to risk the personal—to disclose intimate details, provocative beliefs, and other private dimensions of herself—she challenges paradigms, creates bridges, and in other ways transforms her readers' thinking and actions.
Bridging: How Anzaldúa's Life and Work Transformed Our Own is testament to the efficacy of Anzaldúa's outward-directed, transformational process. All the contributors, in various ways, have been greatly affected by Anzaldúa's willingness to risk the personal. Inspired by Anzaldúa's bold words and acts, we take risks of our own—risks that blur boundaries, explode identity categories, and in other ways challenge status-quo thinking. With this edited volume, we invite others to critically engage with Anzaldúa's theories and explore her impact on their lives and work. Our goal is not to romanticize Anzaldúa, nor are we interested in simply celebrating her life. Instead, Bridging does new work in the world: contributors explore and expand on Anzaldúa's intellectual, spiritual, community-building contributions while creating new bridges, knowledge, and growth across and within our respective disciplines and communities.
As we explain below, Bridging grew out of our own experiences of sorrow and loss, triggered by Anzaldúa's unexpected death in May 2004. However, as so often happens, the book has taken on a life of its own, representing a diversity of locations (Argentina, Canada, Chile, China, Cuba, Ecuador, India, Iran, Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the United States), professions (activists, artists, doctoral students, feminist organizers, folklorists, healers, performers, poets, professors, teachers, violence-prevention educator, and writers, among others), and academic disciplines (Anglo-American Culture Studies, American Studies, Anthropology, Chicana/o Studies, Comparative Literature, English, Ethnic Studies, Gender Studies, Latin American Studies, Latina/o Studies, Philosophy, Psychology, Rhetoric, Sociology, Social Work, Spanish, and Women's Studies) that exceeded our expectations. We represent an array of generations, ranging in age from our twenties to our seventies; though coming of age in different decades and experiencing our contrasting local and world histories and events in unique ways, we are all connected through common life histories and stories. The connection among so many differently situated people is Anzaldúa herself. Her words and presence have touched and changed each contributor. From this personal shift and transformation we move outward, calling for and attempting to enact additional transformations.
Bridging Loss, Creating Community
This book has its source in Anzaldúa's death. Five months after Anzaldúa's untimely passing, we—AnaLouise and Gloria—met at a tribute sponsored by the University of Texas at Austin and local Austin organizations to celebrate her life and honor her memory. Gloria was a key organizer; she worked tirelessly with other compañeras and compañeros to create a two-day posthumous homage designed to unite a wide variety of people touched by Anzaldúa. AnaLouise gave a talk at this event, invited to speak because of her extensive working relationship and close personal friendship with Anzaldúa. We met while standing on an existential bridge of personal and professional grief, while reflecting on the multiple forms of sorrow and loss experienced by ourselves and those around us. We were deeply immersed in what Anzaldúa would describe as nepantla. The Náhuatl word for in-between, "nepantla" signals transition, uncertainty, alarming feelings of loss, pain, ambiguity, and oftentimes despair. Nepantla represents a crossroads of sorts, a nexus point, a space/time of paralysis yet rich with transformational potential. Nepantla holds the promise of growth, offering multiple possibilities for movement and development. . . . if we can extricate ourselves from the paralysis, if we can jump-start ourselves and move on.
But when we met at that November 2004 conference, we were in a stasis of sorts, still shocked with grief as we grappled with the full implications of Anzaldúa's death. We had so many questions and concerns as we looked toward the future: She died too early, with so much work still to be done!!!! What will happen to Anzaldúa's intellectual legacy? Will scholars and other readers expand their explorations and understanding of her words? Or will they shove Anzaldúa into a box, labeling her "Chicana" and/or "lesbian" and/or "feminist" and/or "queer" and thus ignore some of the most radical dimensions of her work? Will Anzaldúa become more alive (in spirit, in our memories, in her written work)? Will she fade in significance? Is there anything we can do to ensure (and increase!) her visibility? How might we underscore and build on Anzaldúa's far-reaching, transformative intellectual legacy? How can we use her groundbreaking knowledge to continue creating intellectual bridges?
To explore these and related questions, we envisioned a collection of writings that would investigate Anzaldúa's impact on a wide range of people (the wider the range, the better!). We wanted to see how other readers have encountered, interpreted, and applied Anzaldúa's contributions, how her life and work have transformed their lives and work. We were curious about how Anzaldúa's writings have traveled within and beyond the academy: How are activists, poets, and others using her work? How have readers from different disciplinary backgrounds encountered Anzaldúa's contributions? Perhaps most importantly, we wanted to use our emergent dialogue as a foundation to build on Anzaldúa's theorizing and produce new knowledge and innovative views and perspectives with the potential to transform our inner and outer worlds—our personal lives and our local, national, and global communities.
And, of course, in addition to these joint goals, we each had personal reasons for taking on this work of anthology-making.
AnaLouise: This project offered a unique opportunity to explore and enhance Anzaldúa's transdisciplinary legacy, to connect with others passionate about her work, and to continue the politics of anthology-making—a skill I had been learning from Gloria Anzaldúa herself. As Anzaldúa taught me, drawing on her own experiences with This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color and Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras, creating an anthology can be a political act. To be sure, the politics are not automatic! The process of anthology-making as intellectual/social/spiritual activism involves careful planning and strategizing. My politics for Bridging have been informed by my desires to challenge contemporary academic divisions and to encourage scholars to explore Anzaldúa's theoretical contributions, particularly those in her post-Borderlands writings. At the time of her death, Anzaldúa was fleshing out a number of bold new theories, theories that had not received the attention they deserved. I was very worried that her recent works would be underappreciated, forgotten, and perhaps even lost; I wanted them to have the broad audience I believe they deserve. What better way to ensure the duration of Anzaldúa's theories and, simultaneously, extend her influence than by co-editing an anthology? I already had co-edited one collection with Anzaldúa, and we were about halfway finished with our second collection; she taught me a lot about the artistry and skill that go into creating a powerful anthology, and I wanted to continue this mentoring process by sharing what I learned with others. I was particularly excited by the possibilities of bridging the humanities with the social sciences; my recent professional move from English to Women's Studies exposed me to the unnecessary divisions among academic fields and perspectives. And so, when Gloria González-López asked me if I would be interested in co-editing a collection on Anzaldúa, I jumped! at the chance.
Gloria: This project offered an opportunity to humbly integrate my own voice toward the development of intellectual bridges across disciplines that Gloria E. Anzaldúa and AnaLouise Keating had been building successfully in both individual and collective projects for many years. As a sociologist, I have been incorporating Anzaldúan theorizing into my more recent sociological analysis of sexuality and gender in Mexican society. I also have been striving to convey the significance of Anzaldúa's work to my fellow sociologists. My most recent project on incest in Mexican urban contexts is significantly inspired by Anzaldúan epistemologies. Anzaldúan theorizing on nepantla, mestiza consciousness, spiritual activism, la facultad, and the Coyolxauhqui imperative—all have created a methodological platform to inform empirical research on different expressions and levels of sexualized pain and nuanced experiences of consensual sex within the context of family and community in Mexico. In addition, theorizing on conocimiento has been invaluable in helping me cope with the challenges of my own academic journeys, including the tenure process. These forms of intellectual bridging are one way to offer full tribute to Anzaldúan theorizing and explore creative ways to incorporate and develop her influential conceptual and paradigmatic frameworks within and across disciplines, especially while cultivating innovative research methodologies and ways of knowing and producing highly needed knowledge in the social sciences. For instance, in this volume Capetillo-Ponce, Facio and Segura, Jacobs, Koshy, and Tamdgidi offer inspirational contributions toward constructing these bridges between Anzaldúan theorizing and sociology.
As we brainstormed about this volume, we decided to create a book that would honor Anzaldúa both in content and form, building on her most innovative dimensions. We wanted our book to be (like Anzaldúa herself), grounded and visionary, simultaneously inward- and outward-looking. We created a call for papers designed to facilitate this complex, intertwined inward/outward process by requesting that potential contributors explore three interrelated topics: their first encounter with Anzaldúa and her work; the ways in which the example of Anzaldúa's life and/or writings influenced the personal, professional, political, and/or ideological dimensions of their lives; and future directions to consider as we build on Anzaldúa's intellectual inheritance. We modeled this three-part exploration on Anzaldúa herself, who begins with the personal but moves outward in looping spiral form, linking "inner work" with "public acts." In keeping with Anzaldúa's innovative, genre-breaking style, we encouraged submissions in experimental, creative forms as well as more conventional essays and scholarly work.
To our great pleasure, the book quickly took on a life of its own, becoming even more diverse—in terms of locations, professions, and disciplinary backgrounds—than we had expected. Contributors come from Argentina (Anahí Viladrich), Chile (Lorena Gajardo), China (Lei Zhang), Cuba (Karina Céspedes), Cuba and Mexico (Jorge Capetillo-Ponce), Ecuador (EsteR Cuesta), India (Kavitha Koshy), Iran (Mohammad H. Tamdgidi), Mexico (Hector Domínguez Ruvalcaba and Gloria González-López), Puerto Rico (Sebastián José Colón-Otero), and other countries. While most now reside in the United States, some live elsewhere, in Mexico (Claire Joysmith), Canada (Lorena Gajardo), and Italy (Paola Zaccaria). We represent many academic disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, ranging from Anthropology, Comparative Literature, English, Philosophy, Psychology, Rhetoric, Sociology, and Spanish to Anglo-American Culture Studies, American Studies, Chicana/o Studies, Ethnic Studies, Gender Studies, Latino/a Studies, Latin American Studies, Social Work, and Women's Studies. We combine numerous genres: personal narrative, spoken-word poetry, haiku, ethnographic research, meditation, empirical investigation, meditative reflection, e-mail interview, "analytical testimonio" (DeGuzmán), and scholarly essay.
In keeping with Anzaldúa's willingness to "risk the personal," we requested that contributors take similar risks and incorporate their own lives into their contributions to this book. Contributors build on their personal experiences, theorizing, and intellectual creativity to develop new bridges within and beyond artistic, activist, and academic expressions. We explore many Anzaldúa-inspired lessons, including holistic epistemologies and the concurrent critique of dualistic thinking (Céspedes, Gajardo, Koshy) or what Lei Zhang describes as Anzaldúa's ability to uproot dualisms; the important roles pain, faith, and the supernatural play in Anzaldúa's mestiza politics (Bost); teaching as an exercise for liberation (Eudey, Lunsford); knowledge production as a form of individual and collective healing (DeGuzmán, Hurtado); nonoppositional explorations and critiques of Colorism (pigmentocracy) within and among communities of color and colonized nations (Joysmith, Viladrich, Zhang); the roles pain and faith play in spiritual and other technologies enabling us to survive—and even thrive—in the academy (González-López, Hurtado, Keating); thinking globally, decentering ourselves, and creating global alliances (Joysmith, Kleisath, Tamdgidi); and promoting innovative frameworks to explore global equality (Koshy, Zaytoun, Zhang) and international politics (Céspedes, Zaccaria). Contributors also offer firsthand accounts of Anzaldúa's influence on us as writers (robello, Cantú), as scholars (Facio and Segura, Hurtado), as students (González-López, Heredia), as teachers (Eudey, Lunsford), as intellectual activists (Cuesta, Lunsford, Steinem), and as spiritual activists (Bost, Céspedes, Jacobs, Tamdgidi, Viladrich). As Shelley Fisher Fishkin notes, Anzaldúa gives us "guideposts of a new way of being in the world." Anzaldúa offers what Mariana Ortega describes as "new visions of subjectivity"; she invites us to challenge, exceed, transform academic disciplinary boundaries (Céspedes, Hurtado, Keating, Lunsford, Zaytoun).
You have a power bigger than this Universe and came to share it with us. La Facultad de todas nos/otras finally pouring into all our roots. You named it, Gloria Anzaldúa.
Sebastián José Colón-Otero
Not surprisingly, given this rich diversity, each contributor tells a very specific and unique story about her/his relationship to Gloria Anzaldúa and her work. Here are our stories.
Like many others, I first encountered Anzaldúa through her words in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, which I found while browsing the used-book section of The Occult Bookstore on Clark Street in downtown Chicago. The book jumped off the shelf, and I bought it. Anzaldúa's introduction to This Bridge's final section, which she titled "El Mundo Zurdo: The Vision," swept me away. I was especially struck by this bold assertion:
We, the women here, take a trip back into the self, travel to the deep core of our roots to discover and reclaim our colored souls, our rituals, our religion. We reach a spirituality that has been hidden in the hearts of oppressed people under layers of centuries of traditional god-worship. It emerges from under the veils of La Virgen de Guadalupe and unrolls from Yemaya's ocean waves whenever we need to be uplifted or need the courage to face the tribulations of a racist patriarchal world where there is no relief. Our spirituality does not come from outside ourselves. It emerges when we listen to the "small still voice" (Teish) within us which can empower us to create actual change in the world.
The vision of our spirituality provides us with no trap door solution, no escape hatch tempting us to "transcend" our struggle. We must act in the everyday world. Words are not enough. We must perform visible and public acts that might make us more vulnerable to the very oppressions we are fighting against. But, our vulnerability can be the source of our power—if we use it." (195, her emphasis)
I was amazed to read—in print—my most private beliefs; I was so impressed and inspired by Anzaldúa's courage. Her defiant words affirmed my own deeply personal (that is, extremely closeted) practices and confirmed my belief in a politics of spirit, a spirituality that offers a transformative tool for social change. Distinguishing her activist spirituality from organized religion (or what she calls "traditional god-worship"), Anzaldúa challenges the commonly held belief that spirituality is, by definition, escapist. Her theories offered me a way to live out and, indeed, to extend my own passionate beliefs about spirituality for social change, which she began theorizing and describing as spiritual activism.
I was hooked! As quickly as possible, I tracked down and read everything Anzaldúa had published, and I began incorporating her work into my own scholarship. About a year later, through a series of serendipitous events, I was fortunate to participate in a Rockefeller Humanities project at the University of Arizona, where Anzaldúa was the resident artist for a week. Because she promised me an interview, I tagged after her each day as she went from one meeting to another. I followed her around for the entire week until finally, the afternoon before we were to depart, I was able to have a long conversation with her. After Arizona we kept in touch, and a few years later (through another series of serendipitous events) I offered to edit a volume of her interviews for her and she agreed. For about two or three years, we worked on Interviews/Entrevistas. As this book neared publication, we decided to take on another project, this bridge we call home: radical visions for transformation—a collection of personal narratives, theoretical essays, textual collage, poetry, letters, artwork, and fiction designed to examine and extend the discussion of issues at the center of the first Bridge. At the time of her death, we were in the midst of our third book project. Working with Anzaldúa has been one of the greatest privileges and brightest highlights of my life. Because I appreciated (and shared!) her obsessions about writing, language, spirituality, and transformation, we worked well together. In addition to being my most significant mentor, she was a close friend.
I first encountered Anzaldúa's work through a feminist theory graduate seminar I took as part of my academic training. Although her work was discussed very briefly in this class and other required courses I took, I developed an intimate relationship with her provoking, refreshing, and stimulating ideas. As a shy graduate student who usually got lost in silence in class discussions, Borderlands/La Frontera gave unexpected answers to many questions I had. As a Mexican immigrant woman, I often felt isolated and lonely within the higher education system in the United States. Anzaldúa became the imaginary feminist who would answer the questions I was either too shy or modest to pose to my otherwise generous mentors. Secretly, I was developing a fond relationship with the woman I would visit in my private imagination. In these silent conversations, I would pose questions to Anzaldúa about why I felt so marginalized in graduate school and why I was so hesitant to pursue an academic career. Anzaldúa gave a language while validating a sense of feeling uprooted, displaced, and marginalized that had accompanied my journey as a well-educated immigrant coming to this country in her mid-twenties. She validated the sense of not belonging anywhere and belonging everywhere. Anzaldúan concepts and paradigms (nepantla, conocimiento, and la facultad, among others) eventually became soothing caresses as I discovered the borderlands inside my heart and in everyday life. In fall 2002, my first year as an assistant professor, I finally met Anzaldúa. I attended a workshop she gave in San Antonio. By then, not only Borderlands/La Frontera but also This Bridge Called My Back and this bridge we call home: radical visions for transformation had become bestsellers in my heart.
We give you this information neither to impress you with our Anzaldúan encounters nor to suggest that we have some type of superior access (an epistemic privilege of sorts) to "all things Anzaldúa" because we personally knew her. Indeed, we resist any type of hierarchical ranking or intellectual competition. While our relationships with Anzaldúa and her writings have been quite different from each other's, these differences do not make one person's encounter superior to those of another. Instead, these differences (along with the many different relationships described in this book) enrich us all, deepen our collective understanding of Anzaldúa and her work, and create numerous pathways for social change. Our stories have parallels and intersections with those of other contributors to this volume, who learned about Anzaldúa's life and work through many venues: chance encounters at bookstores; assigned readings in Women's Studies, Chicana/o Studies, and English classrooms; workshops at grassroots and community-based organizing events; instruction from mentors; gifts from friends, relatives, and lovers; and articles by womanist/feminist and critical race theorists. While some met Anzaldúa in face-to-face situations, many did not. While some have been familiar with Anzaldúa and her writings for decades, others did not encounter her words until after her death. While some contributors grew up practically in Anzaldúa's backyard (if we define backyard broadly, as South Texas), others grew up more than halfway around the world.
We intentionally include a broad range of contributors, and we resist the temptation to judge or in any way rank the differences among our encounters. Anzaldúa's words resonate deeply with many different readers, giving them a sense of intimate connection with her. These intimate connections do not depend on shared identity categories or personal, face-to-face encounters with Anzaldúa. As this collection evolved, our contributors have demonstrated, again and again, a priceless lesson: Anzaldúan thought is borderless; Gloria Anzaldúa, the human being and the producer of knowledge, goes far beyond any fixed identities and cultural boundaries.
The rejection of simplistic identity categories was one of Anzaldúa's most enduring lessons and an important component in her willingness to risk the personal and, through this risk, make connections with people from diverse backgrounds. Look, for instance, at "now let us shift" (published in 2002), in which Anzaldúa explores, critiques, and moves beyond social identity categories—including those treasured identities she previously embraced. In the opening pages of this lengthy essay, before she narrates her personal-collective journey of conocimiento, she exposes the ways conventional social thinking—with its rigid binary-oppositional identity categories, separatist intentions, and institutionally imposed labels—has mobilized and controlled contemporary human beings. Describing these early years of the twenty-first century as a crucial time/space of nepantla, she calls for radical change:
We stand at a major threshold in the extension of consciousness, caught in the remolinos (vortices) of systemic change across all fields of knowledge. The binaries of colored/white, female/male, mind/body are collapsing. Living in nepantla, the overlapping space between different perceptions and belief systems, you are aware of the changeability of racial, gender, sexual, and other categories rendering the conventional labelings obsolete. Though these markings are outworn and inaccurate, those in power continue using them to single out and negate those who are "different" because of color, language, notions of reality, or other diversity. You know that the new paradigm must come from outside as well as within the system. (541)
At this point in her career, Anzaldúa is fully aware of the dangerous ways that institutional identity categories are used to organize, separate, and otherwise disempower people of colors, queers, and others whose identities fall outside the "norm."
Although in some of her earlier writings Anzaldúa redefined and reclaimed these institutionally imposed identity categories—celebrating her identity as a woman, as a Chicana, as a lesbian, and so on—in this essay she eschews the temporary pleasures of these previously celebrated "home" identities by exposing their limitations:
Being Chicana (indigenous, Mexican, Basque, Spanish, Berber-Arab, Gypsy) is no longer enough, being female, woman of color, patlache (queer) no longer suffices. Your resistance to identity boxes leads you to a different tribe, a different story (of mestizaje) enabling you to rethink yourself in more global-spiritual terms instead of conventional categories of color, class, career. It calls you to retribalize your identity to a more inclusive one, redefining what it means to be una mexicana de este lado, an American in the U.S., a citizen of the world, classifications reflecting an emerging planetary culture. In this narrative national boundaries dividing us from the "others" (nos/otras) are porous and the cracks between worlds serve as gateways. (561)
We want to underscore the radical nature of Anzaldúa's call for innovative, difference-inflected models of planetary citizenship. She moves beyond—without denying—conventional "identity boxes" and calls for a more expansive approach to identity formation that includes "global-spiritual" dimensions. While most feminist and social justice theorists rely on various intersectional frameworks structured according to race, gender, and other social identities, Anzaldúa replaces these segmented identity models with a relational approach. By so doing, she enacts a politics of interconnectivity.
Whether she theorizes this new politics as nos/otras, the new tribalism, El Mundo Zurdo, or nepantleras, Anzaldúa insists on the relational nature of all human beings. Focusing on our radical interconnectedness, she develops holistic models for identity formation and coalition building. These models do not ignore difference; instead, they enable us to develop new forms of complex commonalities. Look, for instance, at her post-Borderlands theory of nos/otras. The word "nosotras" is Spanish for the feminine "we" and represents a collectivity, a type of group identity or consciousness. By partially dividing this word into two, Anzaldúa simultaneously affirms this collectivity and acknowledges the divisiveness so often experienced in contemporary life: "nos" implying community, "otras" implying otherness. Joined together, nos + otras holds the promise of healing: We contain the others; the others contain us. Significantly, nos/otras does not represent sameness; the differences among "us" still exist, but they function dialogically, generating previously unrecognized commonalities and connections, or what Anzaldúa describes in "now let us shift" as "an unmapped common ground" (570). Drawing "us" and "them" closer together, Anzaldúa's theory of nos/otras offers an alternative to binary self/other constellations, a philosophy and praxis enabling us to acknowledge, bridge, and sometimes transform the distances between self and other.
This radical Anzaldúan resistance to conventional identity categories is a recurring theme in Bridging. Indeed, working on this edited collection enabled us to see the historical and theoretical evolution of Anzaldúan thought in this area. Contributors demonstrate that we can no longer hide behind conventional identity categories and labels; risking the personal demands that we acknowledge this fact. In the words of Karina Céspedes, "our desire to be 'safe' within identity categories, is in fact killing us."
Forging El Mundo Zurdo
I dream of more inclusive spaces.
Bridging honors Gloria Anzaldúa's radically inclusionary stance, her desire to make connections with wildly disparate peoples and groups. We follow Anzaldúa's lead, shifting our emphasis from conventional forms of intersectionality, which employ a "race/class/gender/sexuality/religion" interpretive framework, toward the less frequently emphasized (and more innovative) "cosmic consciousness/cosmic citizenship" frame. We are not replacing one paradigm with another but rather expanding our vision and inviting others to engage in this conversation. We hope that the reflections we all offer in this volume will enhance Anzaldúa's innovative contributions to theorizing and research across disciplines as we work to cultivate a deeper, increasingly nuanced, and more sophisticated understanding of diversity and inequality beyond rigid divisions, categories, and rankings. We hope these essays will build on while stimulating innovative possibilities for interconnectedness, social justice, and change locally and globally.
The kaleidoscopic collage of perspectives and voices illustrates and enacts one form that El Mundo Zurdo might take. El Mundo Zurdo is one of Anzaldúa's earliest and most important theories. She began creating it in the late 1970s and was still expanding upon it in her final writings. El Mundo Zurdo represents a visionary approach to community building in which people from varied backgrounds and with different needs and concerns coexist and work together to bring about revolutionary change. El Mundo Zurdo defines difference relationally (rather than hierarchically) and thus makes it possible to develop communities based on commonalities (not sameness). Anzaldúa insists that the inhabitants of El Mundo Zurdo are not all alike; our specific oppressions, politics, solutions, and beliefs can be different. Significantly, however, these different affinities are not opposed to each other but instead function as catalysts, facilitating new, potentially transformative alliances. As she explains in "La Prieta,"
We are the queer groups, the people that don't belong anywhere, not in the dominant world nor completely within our own respective cultures. Combined we cover so many oppressions. But the overwhelming oppression is the collective fact that we do not fit, and because we do not fit we are a threat. Not all of us have the same oppressions, but we empathize and identify with each other's oppressions. We do not have the same ideology, nor do we derive similar solutions. Some of us are leftists, some of us practitioners of magic. Some of us are both. But these different affinities are not opposed to each other. In El Mundo Zurdo I with my own affinities and my people with theirs can live together and transform the planet. (209, her italics)
By shifting the focus from identity to affinity, Anzaldúa's theory of El Mundo Zurdo offers a refreshing, potentially transformational alternative to conventional forms of coalition-building and oppositional politics. Unlike identity-based alliances—which often rely on externally imposed social identity labels and thus seem to be shaped by fate, not personal agency—affinity is more open-ended and volitional; it implies choice, desire, and movement.
Unlike a conventional academic book, which would focus primarily (if not exclusively) on analyzing Anzaldúa's words, Bridging does not stop with analysis but also includes excavation and application. Contributors do not simply investigate Anzaldúa's writings; rather, we apply them—to our own lives, to our work, and to our visions for the future. We look inward, to discuss how encountering Anzaldúa transformed us, and we take our transformations outward to explore how her theories and the lessons we have learned from her work could alter other areas of the world, ranging from the "postcolonial inferiority complex" that Lei Zhang develops and applies to "white"-supremacist beauty standards in China to Elisa Facio and Denise Segura's exploration of a "borderlands community praxis" to demonstrate how Anzaldúa's concepts can usefully expand the sociological imagination.
Throughout this introduction we have consistently referred to Gloria Anzaldúa by her last name, as "Anzaldúa" rather than as "Gloria." This usage is intentional—in our introduction and throughout the book. Unless contributors are enacting a dialogue with Anzaldúa herself, they, too, refer to Anzaldúa by her last name rather than her first. Given Bridging's emphasis on risking the personal, why have we adopted this policy? While our references to "Anzaldúa" might seem to lose a certain intimacy, we base our decision on our intention to promote respect toward her intellectual significance and transformative contributions. We are concerned that the tendency to refer to Anzaldúa exclusively by her first name (as "Gloria") diminishes her intellectual stature in ways that could have negative long-term implications—especially as a new generation of students and scholars becomes familiar with her work. For instance, influential theorists from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are traditionally referred to and cited by their last names ("Marx," "Einstein," "Freud," "Lacan," and "Foucault," among others). While male authors are generally referenced by their last names (Walt Whitman, for instance, is called "Whitman"), female authors are often cited by their first names alone ("Emily," say, rather than "Emily Dickinson"). In this collection, we also have intentionally kept all Spanish text in regular font. We do so for several reasons. First, the non-italicized format is our political and theoretical attempt to avoid the "othering" of non-English language. And second, we follow Anzaldúa's own beliefs and practice. In her later works, she strongly preferred not to italicize Spanish or other non-English words.
Finally, this book is not a hagiography—our attempt to elevate Anzaldúa into some kind of intellectual sainthood. Our goals are rooted in the here and now, the material reality of contemporary academic life and its interconnectedness with different and complex dimensions of our humanity. With this book, the contributors and editors risk the personal, humbly becoming bridges ourselves, so that we can engage with others in what we believe to be a vital conversation within academic and activist communities. We hope that this edited collection will nurture and build on the development of Anzaldúan studies for the twenty-first century within, across, and beyond the disciplines, fields, and ways of embracing life that each of us represents. We share with our readers our heartfelt desire to explore the many ways we can implement and expand on Anzaldúa's theories, from intellectual development and innovation within and across disciplines and fields to personal, institutional, and collective evolution and change—locally and globally. Bridging demonstrates that the willingness to risk the personal can lead to additional risks—risks that blur boundaries, explode identity categories, and in other ways challenge status-quo thinking. With this edited volume, we invite others to participate in and expand on our speculations, to critically engage with Anzaldúa's theories and explore her impact on their lives, their work, and the world.
We invite you to engage in these open, ongoing collective conversations within our communities, within and beyond academic walls.