“Una Herida Abierta”: The Border as Wound in Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera

  • Cassie Premo Steele

Abstract

Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza has been praised as a visionary, ground-breaking work by many.1 Literary critics, Sonia Saldívar-Hull, Ramón Saldívar and Paula Gunn Allen, have all referred to Anzaldúa’s work as a seminal text in both contemporary Chicano/a literary studies and “border studies.”2 The work has likewise been hailed by scholars in other disciplines, such as Carl Gutiérrez-Jones in critical legal studies, Oscar J. Martínez in sociology, Ruth Behar in anthropology, and Ronald Takaki in history; most conclude their works with a reference to her work.3 Why is it that scholars in the humanities and social sciences alike claim her work as exemplary? The answer lies primarily in the figure of the “border” that she uses, a figure that parallels Freud’s figure of trauma as a wound.4 As Anzaldúa shows and as I will explore, the border functions as a marker of an open wound—the marker of a collective traumatic history. Anzaldúa’s work explores the literal U.S.-Mexico border as a wound, as a site of historical trauma that continues to affect the present experiences of individuals and communities. Further, Anzaldúa’s work presents a vision of the figurai Borderlands, sites where there arise positive possibilities for healing from the effects of traumatic events, both individual and collective, both separate and shared.

Keywords

Migration Maize Stake Como Metaphor 

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Sonia Saldívar-Hull, “Feminism on the Border: From Gender Politics to Geopolitics,” Criticism in the Borderlands, ed. Hector Calderon and José David Saldívar (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991): 203–220, p. 211; Ramón Saldívar, Chicano Narrative: The Dialectics of Difference (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), p. 218; Paula Gunn Allen, “‘Border Studies’: The Intersection of Gender and Color,” The Ethnic Canon: Histories, Institutions, and Interventions, ed. David Palumbo-Liu (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995): 31–47, p. 45.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Carl Gutierrez-Jones, Rethinking the Borderlands: Between Chicano Culture and Legal Discourse (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), p. 118–119. Oscar J. Martínez, Border People: Life and Society in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994), p. 309–310. Ruth Behar, Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993), p. 10–11. Ronald Takaki, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1993), p. 426. Anzaldúa is also cited by three contributors to The Multiracial Experience: Racial Borders as the New Frontier, ed. Maria P. P. Root (Thousand Oaks, Ca.: Sage, 1996). All three treat her work as sociology, not literature. See Cynthia Nakashima, “Voices from the Movement: Approaches to Multiraciality,” 79–97, p. 90; G. Reginald Daniel, “Black and White Identity in the New Millennium: Unsevering the Ties That Bind,” 121–139, p. 134; Carolina A. Streeter, “Ambiguous Bodies: Locating Black/White Women in Cultural Representations,” 305–320, pp. 308, 310.Google Scholar
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    This appears in Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle, trans. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1961), p. 16.Google Scholar
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    Without attempting to provide a complete bibliography of U.S.-Mexico history, I’ll mention some sources that have helped me most in understanding some of the many complexities of this history. Enrique Florescano, Memory, Myth, and Time in Mexico: From the Aztecs to Independence, trans. Albert G. Bork and Kathryn G. Bork (Austin: University of Texas, 1994). Miguel Léon-Portilla, ed. with intro. The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico, trans, from Nahuatl into Spanish, Angel Maria Garibay K. Eng., trans. Lysander Kemp (Boston: Beacon, 1992). Matt S. Meier and Feliciano Ribera, Mexican Americans /American Mexicans: From Conquistador to Chicano, rev. ed. of Chicanos (1972), (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993). Maria Montes de Oca Rickes, Mediating the Past: Continuity and Diversity in the Chicano Literary Tradition, Ph.D. dissertation (University of South Carolina, 1991). Tey Diana Rebolledo and Eliana S. Rivero, “Introduction,” Infinite Divisions, ed. Tey Diana Rebolledo and Eliana S. Rivero (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1993): 1–33. Ronald Takaki, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1993). Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Harper and Row, 1984). Patricia Zavella, “Reflections on Diversity Among Chicanas,” Frontiers, vol. XII, no. 2 (1991): 73–85.Google Scholar
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    See Tey Diana Rebolledo and Eliana S. Rivero, “Introduction,” Infinite Divisions, ed. Tey Diana Rebolledo and Eliana S. Rivero (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1993): 1–33, p. 19.Google Scholar
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    Kate Adams also notes the “leaving and returning” theme of this poem in “Northamerican Silences: History, Identity and Witness in the Poetry of Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, and Leslie Marmon Silko” in Listening to Silences: New Essays in Feminist Criticism, ed. Elaine Hedges and Shelley Fisher Fishkin (New York: Oxford, 1994), 130–145, p. 140.Google Scholar
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    My understanding of collective memory and its impact on nationalism has been influenced by Yael Zerubavel’s essay, “The Death of Memory and the Memory of Death: Masada and the Holocaust as Historical Metaphors,” Representations 45 (Winter 1994): 72–100. She discusses commemorative narratives on page 80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    From the essay, “La Prieta,” in This Bridge Called My Back, ed. Anzaldúa and Moraga (New York: Kitchen Table Press, 1981, 1983): 198–209, p. 200.Google Scholar
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    For more on the healing effects of narrativization, see Jodie Wigrin, “Narrative Completion in the Treatment of Trauma,” Psychotherapy 31.3 (Fall 1994): 415–423. In this essay Wigrin writes, “incomplete narrative processing of traumatic experience causes symptoms of posttraumatic stress” (415).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Cathy Caruth, Introduction to Trauma: Explorations in Memory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995): 3–12, p. 5.Google Scholar
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    The New World Spanish-English and English-Spanish Dictionary, ed. Salvatore Ramondino (New York: Signet, 1969), pp. 72, 31.Google Scholar
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    “Algo secretamente amado,” from The Sexuality of Latinas, ed. Norma Alar-con, Ana Castillo, and Cherríe Moraga (Berkeley: Third Woman Press, 1993): 151–156, p. 152. Italics mine.Google Scholar
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    “From Il(l)egal to Legal Subject: Border Construction and Re-construction,” The Bronze Screen: Chicana and Chicano Film Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993): 65–153, pp. 82–83.Google Scholar

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© Cassie Premo Steele 2000

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  • Cassie Premo Steele

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