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Gloria Anzaldua’s “To Live in the Borderlands”

The borderland is a special subjectivity and self-awareness of the one who cannot cross the border but lives inside its rift. In her poem “To Live in the Borderlands,” Mexican-American frontier philosopher, poet, writer, and Chicana theorist Gloria Anzaldua describes the experience of people inhabiting the space between several different worlds (Alessandri 2). Living in the borderland means walking back and forth, crossing all sorts of external and internal boundaries, and overcoming geographical, linguistic, and psychological barriers.

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Gloria Anzaldua is a frontier woman who grew up at the intersection of two cultures, Mexican, with strong Indian influence, and Anglo, being a member of a group of colonized people in their territory. Throughout her life, she has been walking along the Texas-Mexican and other borders. She says that it is not a comfortable territory to live in but rather a place of contradictions where “you fight hard to resist” (Anzaldua 316). Nevertheless, there are some joys in this Mestiza identity that compensate for the difficulties. Despite the difficulties in trying to maintain the integrity of multiple identities, living in the borderland gives the feeling of excitement due to the participation in an important process of the further evolution of humanity.

Frontier identity is often a nomadic, wandering identity that embodies an intermediate trans-cultural state, oscillating between the inner and outer space. This consciousness is well illustrated by the following words: “To survive the Borderlands you must live sin fronteras be a crossroads” (Anzaldua 317). Therefore, the borderland is depicted in the poem not as a zone of cross-cultural interaction but as a space of searching for one’s identity. The ambivalence of borderline consciousness is reflected here in the metaphor of “nobody’s”, which implies the impossibility of complete self-identification with either American or Mexican culture (Alessandri 5). This imaginary marker actualizes the borderline not only as a political-administrative tool but as a significant symbolic field that goes beyond the material.

One of the most important theses that Gloria Anzaldua develops is related to the peculiarities of borderline consciousness. This is a zone of ambivalence, where the concepts of native and alien are paradoxically intertwined: “Where enemies are kin to each other; you are at home, a stranger” (Anzaldua 316). The life between cultures is characterized by instability and a flow of emotional states. Belligerence and decisiveness give way to caution, anger and rage are combined with excitement from the possibility of participating in the further evolution of mankind, in the creation of a new hybrid culture (Alessandri 7). Thus, only flexibility with regard to ambivalence determines the characteristics of survival in borderland conditions.

To sum up, the borderland becomes a zone of cultural risk, in which not only intercultural dialogue takes place but also competition for control over social space. Borderline identity is a socio-cultural phenomenon that is constructed and represented primarily in discursive practices of different levels and types. In Gloria Anzaldua’s poem “To Live in the Borderlands,” it is depicted as a special place where different worlds constantly rub against each other until a new culture is born. The author presents Mestizos as complex individuals who constantly have to overcome geographical, psychological, racial, class, gender, age, and linguistic barriers. As shown in the poem, the issues of national and cultural identity are difficult to resolve since the concept of borderland is conflicting and serves as a space for the struggle.

Works Cited

Anzaldua, Gloria. “To live in the Borderlands.” American Identities: An Introductory Textbook, 2005, pp. 316-317.

Alessandri, Mariana. “Gloria Anzaldúa as Philosopher: The Early Years (1962–1987).” Philosophy Compass, vol. 15, no. 7, 2020, pp. 1-15.

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