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How Do We Build Common Ground? Consider “Borderlands” by Gloria Anzaldua

February 28, 2018

With so much conflict in the world, in our country, in our communities, and even within ourselves, we must periodically ask the question:

How do we build common ground?

An important tool is to reflect on our languages choices and to consider:

  • what are our expectations,
  • what our assumptions, and
  • what are our differences?

This semester we are reading two essays by Anzaldua from her book, Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza, and today we’re talking about her essay, “How To Tame A Wild Tongue” as well as Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” and Richard Rodrigues’s “Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood” as collected in 5o Essays edited by Samuel Cohen.

According to Wikipedia, “Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa (September 26, 1942 – May 15, 2004) was a scholar of Chicana cultural theory, feminist theory, and queer theory. She loosely based her best-known book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, on her life growing up on the Mexican-Texas border and incorporated her lifelong feelings of social and cultural marginalization into her work.”

Gloria Anzaldua was the subject of a Google Doodle on her 75th birthday birthday, Sept. 26, 2017. Learn more in this article.

Anzaldua’s poem “Borderlands” offers ideas for how to understand our expectations, our assumptions, and our differences between us and within us– for us to find a common ground.


To live in the Borderlands means you
are neither hispana india negra española
ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata
, half-breed
caught in the crossfire between camps
while carrying all five races on your back
not knowing which side to turn to, run from;

To live in the Borderlands means knowing
that the india in you, betrayed for 500 years,
is no longer speaking to you,
that mexicanas call you rajetas,
that denying the Anglo inside you
is as bad as having denied the Indian or Black;

Cuando vives in la frontera
people walk through you, the wind steals your voice,
you’re a burra, buey, scapegoat,
forerunner of a new race,
half and half—both woman and man, neither—
a new gender;

To live in the Borderlands means to
put chile in the borscht,
eat whole wheat tortillas,
speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent;
be stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints;

Living in the Borderlands means you fight hard to
resist the gold elixir beckoning from the bottle,
the pull of the gun barrel,
the rope crushing the hollow of your throat;

In the Borderlands
you are the battleground
where enemies are kin to each other;
you are at home, a stranger,
the border disputes have been settled
the volley of shots have shattered the truce
you are wounded, lost in action
dead, fighting back;

To live in the Borderlands means
the mill with the razor white teeth wants to shred off
your olive-red skin, crush out the kernel, your heart
pound you pinch you roll you out
smelling like white bread but dead;

To survive the Borderlands
you must live sin fronteras
be a crossroads.

gabacha: a Chicano term for a white woman
rajetas: literally, “split,” that is, having betrayed your word
burra: donkey
buey: oxen
sin fronteras: without borders

So: What is a “Borderland”?

  • Elsewhere in the book, in an essay we read earlier “The Path of the Red and Black Ink,” Anzaldúa writes, “Being a writer feels very much like being a Chicana, or being queer.”
  • How does the idea of a “Borderland” describe a variety of psychological states, and positions within a society?
  • What makes living in a “Borderland” a “numinous experience,” not a “nightmare”?
  • How is writing–and the author’s relationship to her work–“symptomatic of a larger creative process–cultural shifts . . . cultural ambiguity”?
  • What does it mean to that we
    “must live sin fronteras
    be a crossroads” ?
  • How can we use language to build a common ground between and within us? To send living kindness to even our elbows?


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