Gloria Anzaldua, a pioneering figure in Chicana feminism and queer studies, died last week of complications from diabetes. An obituary can be found here.
In the field of Chicana literature and history, Anzaldua was a giant. In 1981, wiith Cherrie Moraga (from whom I took classes at Cal), she edited This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. In 1987, she published La Frontera/Borderlands.
The title poem included the memorable searing lines:
Cuando vives en la frontera
people walk through you, 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 check points...
The obit in the Times drily notes:
The author's intensely personal style broke the conventions of scholarly writing and kept her outside the mainstream of academia, a position that Anzaldua, who published widely in alternative journals, did not seem to regret.
I know that my own desire to infuse the classroom with personal narratives was rooted in my own response to Chicana/Latina feminist writers and academics like Anzaldua, Moraga, Ana Castillo, and Norma Alarcon. More than their "white" sisters, they refused to de-legitimate emotion and personal experience. In 1990, Anzaldua wrote:
What is considered theory in the dominant academic community is not necessarily what counts as theory for women-of-color. Theory produces effects that change people and the way they perceive the world. Thus we need teorías that will enable us to interpret what happens in the world, that will explain how and why we relate to certain people in specific ways, that will reflect what goes on between inner, outer and peripheral 'I's within a person and between the personal 'I's and the collective 'we' of our ethnic communities. Necesitamos teorías that will rewrite history using race, class, gender and ethnicity as categories of analysis, theories that cross borders, that blur boundaries-new kinds of theories with new theorizing methods. We need theories that will points out ways to maneuver between our particular experiences and the necessity of forming our own categories and theoretical models for the patterns we uncover. We need theories that examine the implications of situations and look at what's behind them. And we need to find practical application for those theories. We need to de-academize theory and to connect the community to the academy. 'High' theory does not translate well when one's intention is to communicate to masses of people made up of different audiences. We need to give up the notion that there is a 'correct' way to write theory.
It's a big loss.