Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Re-Articulating the New Mestiza

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Re-Articulating the New Mestiza

Article excerpt


This essay provides an overview, critique, and the beginning of a refiguration of Gloria Anzaldua's theorization of the new mestiza as set out in her seminal 1987 book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. By examining both Anzaldua's precursors and the articulations of hybrid identities of her contemporaries, this essay depicts the complex dynamic that characterizes the mestiza's need to develop, beyond borders and attempts to fashion a more contemporary, transnational mestiza. Using the writing and criticism of Francoise Lionnet alongside Anzaldua's and other critics, and utilizing postcolonial and feminist theories, this essay hopes to provide an alternative articulation to conventional understandings of hybridity and mestizaje in contemporary thought.

Keywords: United States borderlands, hybridity, mestiza


The purpose of this essay is to provide an overview, a critique, and the beginning of a refiguration of Gloria Anzaldua's theorization of the new mestiza. Anzaldua's mestiza exists in borderlands, and is "neither hispana india negra espahola / ni gabacha;" (1) rather, she is "mestiza, mulata, half-breed / caught in the crossfire between camps / while carrying all five races on [her] back / not knowing which side to turn to, run from" (Borderlands/La Frontera 216). However, according to Anzaldua, and despite the difficulties engendered by her very existence, the mestiza is also a figure of enormous potential, as her multiplicity allows a new kind of consciousness to emerge. This mestiza consciousness moves beyond the binary relationships and dichotomies that characterize traditional modes of thought, and seeks to build bridges between all minority communities in order to achieve social and political change. Anzaldua locates the new mestiza consciousness at a site that, as Francoise Lionnet suggests, "is not a territory staked out by exclusionary practices" ("The Politics and Aesthetics of Metissage" 5).

Although there are clear precursors to Anzaldua's work, one of which I discuss at length below, many critics and thinkers choose her work to engage with. This has to do with her unique place in the "canon" of Chicana/Mexican American writing--what she calls the "Moveimento Macha." Writing from the position(s) of queer Chicana womanhood, code-switching between English and Spanish, and mixing poetry and prose, Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera, at the time of publication in 1987, represented an important break from the mainly male-dominated pool of "traditional" Chicano writers (2) and inspired a generation of women, Chicana and non-Chicana alike, to write about their experiences as border-crossers with hybrid identities. Anzaldua's work remains popular because it retains much of its original subversive potential, its cross-disciplinarity providing new and varied methodologies to analyze borders. In many ways, it has also played an important role in refocusing American studies as a transnational discipline. In her presidential address to the American Studies Association in 2004, Shelley Fisher Fishkin identified Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera as epitomizing the transnational nature of American studies, and credited her work for opening up a space for "American studies scholars [to] increasingly recognize that understanding requires looking beyond the nation's borders, and understanding how the nation is seen from vantage points beyond its borders" ("Crossroads of Cultures" 20).

Anzaldua's work, much like Anzaldua herself, is also able to blur the boundaries of a range of different theoretical approaches and contexts, including postcolonial, feminist, border, and queer theories, in addition to other disciplines including sociology and anthropology. Gita Rajan and Radhika Mohanram, for example, have noted how

"[...] recent critical focus has shifted from exile and diaspora to borders, and the crossing and recrossing of physical, imaginative, linguistic, and cultural borders" and see Anzaldua's work as "largely responsible for this new direction in postcolonial studies" ("Introduction" 5). …

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