Dr. AnaLouise Keating is a professor of multicultural women’s and gender studies at Texas Woman’s University, where she directs the doctoral program in multicultural women’s & gender studies. Her most recent book is “Transformation Now! Toward a Post-Oppositional Politics of Change;” and she is series editor of “Transformations: Womanist, Feminist, & Indigenous Studies,” at the University of Illinois Press. As editor of Interviews/Entrevistas and as co-editor with Anzaldúa of “This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation,” Keating worked closely with Anzaldúa; Keating also edited “The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader” and “Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality.”
On April 3, 2018, Dr. Keating will be speaking about about Gloria Anzaldúa’s contributions to 21st Century thought at 12:15 PM in room EEDUC 3.204
In anticipation of the event, Cinthya M. Saavedra, an associate professor and Academic Program Director of Mexican American Studies at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, provided Neta with personal and professional lessons she has garnered through Anzaldúa’s work and contributions.
Lessons from Gloria Anzaldúa
Parts of this paper were adapted from an invited paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, (AERA) San Antonio, TX, Highlighted Presidential Session, “Curriculum of Conquest and Borders: Land Based Violences and Land Based Relationships.”
Introduction: Las fronteras/the borderlands
I have been living in the U.S/Mexico borderlands for the past year and eight months. However, my story of borderlands and crossing borders began at the age of four when I moved to Honduras from Nicaragua because of la guerra civil. Remember the Sandinistas, the Contras, the U.S backed dictator Somosa? That bloody conflict pushed my father to uproot us to Honduras to seek stability and a more peaceful existence. When the instability and threat continued in Honduras, where we were classified as “foreigners,” he decided to try our luck in Brownsville, Texas, the U.S. city my grandparents had been living in since the 70s. By the time I was eight years old, I had already lived in three countries.
Brownsville, Texas would be my my first introduction to the U.S and the borderlands. Little did I know then that one day I would become a Chicana/Latina feminist educator heavily influenced, if not transformed, by Anzaldúa’s work. One working at the very campus she once attended.
“Las fronteras separan, unen, delimitan, marcan la diferencia y la similitud, pero también producen espacios intersticiales, nuevos espacios que inauguran relaciones. Pueden ser burladas, acatadas, cruzadas, transgredidas, imaginadas, reales, reinventadas y destruidas.
Confinan y liberan. Protegen y torturan”
–Marisa Belausteguigoitia, Límites y fronteras: la pedagogía del cruce y la transdisciplina en la obra de Gloria Anzaldúa
1950 mile-long wound
dividing a pueblo, a culture,
running down the length of my body,
staking fence rods in my flesh,
splits me splits me
me raja me raja
This is my home
This thin edge of
–Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera
The borderlands are places that have been conceptualized as painful, violent, conflict ridden and yet also beautiful, home to many, and a space of in-betweenness or nepantla–both concretely and spiritually. I honor and respect the different experiences (mourn and refusing to forget the tragic ones). I respect the different conceptualizations of the borderlands. They all have a vantage point, a perspective worth understanding, examining and engaging with.
As I see it, the borderlands of the Rio Grande Valley are contentious and under attack, but they are also spaces of liminality, nepantla, sabiduria, knowledge and unimagined possibilities. I think this latter point about unimagined possibilities is very important to stress.
I would like to share, compartir, here three lecciones from Anzaldúa that I believe possess powerful implications for border residents and the possibilities present in the Valley. This is not the Truth of the borderlands, just perhaps a rhizome, una rama, or crack, in the endless possibilities of living and engaging with the borderlands. This is an autohistoria-teoría developed through my steps, mis pasos, on/in/through the borderlands as an educational researcher.
First Lesson: Developing a Borderlands Epistemology Through Nepantla
Borrowing from Nahuatl conocimiento, Anzaldúa redefines nepantla as a liminal or in-between, often conflictive, space that allows one to see multiple and sometimes contradictory ideas or realties. In this space, we can contemplate new possibilities for being. Through the development of a nepantlera consciousness, we can learn to traverse the terrain, the spaces. We can also learn how to alter them and create new third spaces of possibility–and alchemy of sorts. In “Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro” Anzaldúa (2015) claims that, “las nepantleras construct alternative roads creating new topographies and geographies of hybrid selves who transcend binaries and de-polarize potential allies…[and] are not constrained by one culture or world but experience multiple realities.” This is what I have come to know as my own borderlands epistemology (way of knowing).
Anzaldúa has enabled me to recognize that life experiences and the places we live in, if we are open to them and critical reflection, permit us to grow, evolve, and transform ourselves and consequently our world and our work within it. Despite the negativity, the violence and constant attacks that are endured every day along the U.S/Mexico border as well as the myths of deficiency that circulate about the Rio Grande Valley borderlands, these lands also produce knowledge and lessons, conocimiento y lecciones, for how to navigate and transform not only said violence but also our own lives. I believe this is the most radical act that we can embrace and perform—the transformation of our lives. And, Anzaldúa, through her concept of nepantla, offers us a tool to help navigate a deeper understanding of ourselves in order than to transform our outer world. Or as she captures it “I change myself, I change the world.”
In many ways, it starts and continues in our lives with examining our geographies of selves—the places, people, cultures and land we come in contact with that shape who we are– and the Coyolxauhqui imperative, “the process of disintegration and reconstruction.” My second lesson from Anzaldúa.
Second Lesson: Geographies of Selves and the Coyolxauhqui Imperative
Borrowing from Aztec mythology, Anzaldúa uses the femicide of Coyolxauhqui [daughter of Coatlicue–goddess of life and death] by her brother Huitzilopochtli to challenge readers to reimagine how we might reconstruct or reintegrate ourselves, becoming whole again and becoming the light in the dark. This process is never an end point but a journey into ongoing healing.
“The Coyolxauhqui imperative is to heal and achieve integration. When fragmentations occur, you fall apart and feel as though you’ve been expelled from paradise. Coyolxauhqui is my symbol for the necessary process of dismemberment and fragmentation, of seeing that self or the situations you’re embroiled in differently. It is also my symbol for reconstruction and reframing, one that allows for putting the pieces together in a new way. The Coyolxauhqui imperative is an ongoing process of making and unmaking. There is never any resolution, just the process of healing”–Gloria Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro
For the longest time, I use to claim no indigenous connections. This was due to the strong narrative I used to hear about our “European roots y que somos bien españoles y alemanes.” But see this one aleman, my great great grandfather, traveled to México from Germany and married an indígena from México. That’s on my mother’s paternal side. On her maternal side, my grandmother was indigenous from the occupied lands now known as Nicaragua. But we never really talked about that. Now that I am more aware of this history, these are the mujeres in my family that I want to know more about in order keep rethinking my identidad. This geography of selves project let me begin to deconstruct and reconstruct a new identity or at the very least unearth what had been buried deep underneath a colonialist narrative. I re-read my identity and the world around me. This process, though it can be experienced in different forms, for Anzaldúa, is known as the coyolxauhqui imperative.
For me seeing or re-reading my past in a new light, helps me to expand my own conceptions of identity and also recognize that there is an interconnectedness where the identity borders are at the very least blurred and that identities are not fixed but fluid and ever changing.
Third Lesson: Language and Literacy in the borderlands
My scholarship and research has been focused on the examination and critical reflection of the social context behind emergent bilingual, transnational and immigrant students in the U.S. One of the biggest concerns with this population has always been language and literacy. Currently, translanguaging is the term that most educators are using to denote the kind of language that people who are exposed to multiple languages and or dialects use in their everyday communication. For people that are exposed to this multiplicity of language, language moves beyond the confines of standard ways of communicating thus they move beyond language, hence the term translanguage.. When reading and teaching translanguaging in my language in the bilingual classroom, I am reminded ofAnzaldúa. This mixed linguistic repertoire, or translanguaging most definitely is what Anzaldúa was describing in “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” where she denotes the discursive aspects of the switching, blending and creating of new ways to use language and the empowerment that should come from that. She also inevitably implies a third space, a language that speaks back to the linguistic empires of both English and Spanish. She writes, “But Chicano Spanish is a border tongue which developed naturally. Change, evolución, enriquecimiento de palabras nuevas por invención o adopción have created variants of Chicano Spanish, un Nuevo lenguaje. Un lenguaje que corresponde a un modo de vivir. Chicano Spanish is not incorrect, it’s a living language”
In my current literacy community research project with low-income mujeres, my team members and I have no word for what is actually occurring. What started as “literacy training for this low-income community turned into a space of healing, wisdom and praxis for all of those involved, including the researchers. Their pláticas, testimonios, the sharing of their lives moves beyond any categorization of literacy research. And indeed, terms like literacy, lectura, does not capture it. I guess I can only somewhat describe it like this: As we struggle through our lives and even during our hard times, we seek balance in our lives. Balance to lead meaningful lives no matter where we are in the world. For my participants in the borderlands this holds true. Though poor and disenfranchised they still live a life that has to resemble some stability. They are involved in their children’s schools, they pass on important cultural knowledge and wisdom to their children, they are cultural critics in their own right and they dream of better lives but most importantly claim the borderlands as their home. They do not forget their ancestral lands or birth places, but have found a new home and land here too. For me, my participation as a researchers with this mujeres has meant excavating not only their story but also the borderlands methodology that honors, respects and celebrate sus historias in a language that is their own.
It is about the relationship that we build, not the technical terms. The feelings, embodied experiences that have surfaced that informs methodology, practice and, curriculum.
In 1980, before several thousand people who had gathered from all over the world for the Black Hills International Survival Gathering, Russell Means gave a speech that perhaps best describes my resistance to label research in terms that cannot capture or give justice to what is actually happening with participants. He began his speech in this way,
“The only possible opening for a statement like this is that I detest writing. The process
epitomizes the European concept of “legitimate thinking”: what is written has an
that is denied the spoken. My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I
reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of
peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.”
It’s exactly this spoken relationship of a people that does not fit literacy research. Nada mas no me sabe.
Just the same, language practices in these borderlands defies the standard conceptualizations or understandings of literacy practices. It is about how we connect with stories, land, experiences, language. Indeed, it goes beyond literacy. It’s bigger than that. It’s life, it’s the spoken relationship of a people.
The borderlands are contentious, but they are also sites of important wisdom and hopes that interrupt the darkness. But we must look a fresh, with new lenses to see that among the violence, oppression exist the agentic peoples of the borderlands. The lessons Anzaldúa teaches us are important because we move beyond seeing one reality of the borderlands– the one that puts its people in powerless ways. Through reimagining ourselves and our participation in our place, we can offer new understanding perhaps even create new borderland realities that don’t forget the struggles and violence but that can reinvent the borderlands as a space of multiple and unthought of possibilities.
Cinthya M. Saavedra is associate professor and Academic Program Director of Mexican American Studies at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and a guest contributor at Neta. Her research centers Chicana/Latina feminist epistemology in educational research. In addition, her scholarship addresses critical methodologies such as testimonios, pláticas and critical reflexivity. Her work is published in “Review of Research in Education, Equity & Excellence in Education, the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, and TESOL Quarterly.”
Anzaldúa, Gloria. E. (1987). Borderlands/la frontera. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. E. (2015). Light in the dark/luz en lo oscuro. In A. Keating (Ed) Light in the dark/luz en los oscuro: Rewriting identity, spirituality, reality, 1-257. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Belausteguigoitia, Marisa. (2009) Borderlands/La Frontera: el feminismo chicano de Gloria Anzaldúa desde las fronteras geoculturales, disciplinarias y pedagógicas Debate Feminista Vol. 40, pp. 149-169