Editor’s Note: In honor of LGBTQ History Month, Dallas Voice presents week one of a four-week series by contributing writer Brandi Amara Skyy.
I was introduced to Gloria Anzaldúa’s body of work in grad school by my professor and thesis advisor Dr. AnaLouise Keating, who had co-edited the this bridge we call home anthology with Anzaldúa and is currently one of Anzaldúa Trust’s trustees. I was a 27-year-old know-it-all rebel-with-a-cause (equality for my LGBTQ community by any means necessary) who was resistant to Anzaldúa’s work because I felt, at the time, her activism was too passive-aggressive for my radical tastes.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Anzaldúa was radical in ways that have taken me years to understand — ways that I’m still trying to digest.
Gloria Anzaldúa was a queer, brown, radically inclusive feminist who was taking action, writing and theorizing about the kinds of things we, as a society, are just now trying to flesh out, act out and live out. The deeper we go into conversations about intersectionality, multiple genders and liminal/in-between spaces (what Anzaldúa referred to as nepantla — “a Nahuatl word meaning tierra entre medio”) the more I see the long-lasting impact of her work.
Whether it’s topics of immigration, queerness, borderlands, inclusivity or color and culture politics, there is not a crevice of activism in our current culture that Gloria Anzaldúa has not impacted or helped shape and bring into form.
And yet few outside of academic circles know her name, much less the impact she had in our activism even though everything we as a society are just now waking up to are the very things Anzaldúa was writing on and mobilizing for more than three decades ago.
Anzaldúa was born in Texas, in the borderlands of the Rio Grande Valley, and later moved to Austin to write and study. Much of her work covered the terrain of borderlands and bridges and how one lives, connects and creates in those spaces. In her 1987 book Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza, she wrote, “Borderlands are physically present whenever two or more cultures edge each other, where people of different races occupy the same territory, where under, lower, middle and upper classes touch, where the space between two individuals shrinks with intimacy.”
It was in that intimacy of the space between, the nepantla (however uncomfortable), that Anzaldúa made her home. And it was in the bridging of these spaces, of being a nepantlera (someone who bridges), that she made her life’s work.
In the 1981 anthology, This Bridge Called My Back, co-edited with Cherríe L. Moraga, Anzaldúa bridged white-washed feminism for the first time with the voices and stories of oppression from women (all-inclusively) of color and their life experiences. This Bridge was the first anthology to shift the narrative away from white feminism and center on the theories of women of color in all their diversity. It was a feat of connectivity and solidarity in strife, not sameness, that we are still arguing over and trying to re-forge today.
But it wasn’t just her work within the borders of race and gender that left a dent in our cultural social-political landscape. What impacted me the most is her groundbreaking work and forward-thinking theories and praxis of nonbinary queerness and spaces.
These are all the things we are struggling to create space for in mainstream narratives today — nonbinary, nonconforming, genderless genders, labelless-ness — and she was writing and fighting to create it when most of our radicalness was in its infancy.
Anzaldúa wrote in the essay “La Prieta” in This Bridge, “They would chop me up into little fragments and tag each piece with a label…who, me confused? Ambivalent? Not so. Only your labels split me.”
These words have been a powerful reminder that as someone who lives in the intersection of many communities and issues that I still remain whole. We still remain whole.
But it also reminds me we are part of a lineage of activists who fought the same battles we are. Maybe we will be the generation that changes the world. Maybe we won’t. The most important thing is that we keep trying.
Gloria Anzaldúa died in 2004 from complications of diabetes as she was developing a new theory of a queered Conocimiento. Conocimiento is her seven-phase theory of spiritual inquiry that takes into account all the complexities we journey through to reach new realms of understanding. “Change ourselves, change the world” was always the heart that beat life into all her writings and theories.
As I thought about who I would like to profile to kick off this series, hers was the only name that popped into my head. Part of me knew it was way past time that I made my peace with her, but a bigger part of me was excited to introduce readers to a queer writer, activist and nepantlera that has influenced and changed my life as an activist, writer, artist and human. She is as rooted in my genetic make-up as my DNA code.
And it didn’t take me long after I graduated to understand that what I was trying to build, the art I was trying to create, the impact I was trying to have, she had given root to.
“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,” she wrote, also in “La Prieta.” Here’s to threating on for many generations to come!