Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Review: The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader

Book Review:

The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, Gloria E. Anzaldúa. AnaLouise Keating, ed. Duke University Press, January 2009.

The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader is one of many important texts recently published within Latino letters and Latino scholarship. Its significance is due to its emphasis on issues currently affecting Latinas/os in the United States. Born and raised in South Texas, Gloria E. Anzaldúa became and remains one of the leading feminist/philosopher/activist writers to describe and theorize the meaning of colonization, nationalism, identity, difference, and spirituality. In the late 1970s, her co-edited anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color argued for an all-inclusive feminist and ethnic discourse. Her autobiography Borderlands: La Frontera: The New Mestiza, published in 1987, followed with an argument about challenging ways of thinking in order to achieve personal and communal transformation. Both her anthology and autobiography have since become and remain central texts in Chicana/o Studies, Feminist Studies, Cultural Studies, and Queer Theory.

Close friend and writing partner, AnaLouise Keating has posthumously anthologized a collection of Anzaldúa’s unpublished writings as a reader that attempts to illuminate the wide range of Anzaldúa’s thoughts about writing, spirituality, sexuality, gender, and race/ethnicity. A decade ago, Keating worked with Anzaldúa to publish a series of interviews titled Interviews/Entrevistas published by Routledge. Recently, Keating collaborated on another anthology with Anzaldúa titled This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation. Keating’s editorial decisions in The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader fulfill the attempt to expand Anzaldúa’s commitment to social change by arguing for coalition building, politicizing art, and spiritual activism in a series of poems, essays, and visual sketches.

Anthologized for new readers and Anzaldúa scholars alike, Keating structures the reader to expand Anzaldúa’s ideas about writing, spirituality, gender/race, and activism—which were also central topics in This Bridge and Borderlands. In Part 1 of The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, for example, Keating presents poems, essays, and interviews written before the publication of This Bridge. This particular collection presents Anzaldúa’s early commitment to challenge readers/writers to consider the spiritual aspects of writing and to think more closely about the interrelationship between spirituality, sexuality, and the body. Part 2 presents writings featuring Anzaldúa’s more theoretical work about difference, identity, and coalition building. The essay titled “To(o) Queer the Writer—Loca—escritora y chicana” is a memorable essay that presents a deliberation about the challenges facing gay and lesbian writers with regard to re-thinking the meaning of sex, sexuality, writing and identity. Though previously published, Keating offers the essay as a means to argue Anzaldúa’s important presence within Queer Theory—an area of inquiry which Keating believes had previously excluded Anzaldúa.

Another highlight, and newly published, is the essay titled “On the Process of Writing Borderlands/La Frontera” where Anzaldúa writes about the exigencies that prompted the writing of her 1987 autobiography. This is an important essay for new readers of Borderlands because it contextualizes much of the complexity of the autobiography. The essay should be significant to scholars who may argue that argumentative and textual gaps appear in her autobiographical text. This section is also important as it contains specific ideas about Anzaldúa’s nationalist development of a “Mestiza Nation,” which she considered a multicultural movement. This section and essay should definitely be of importance to activists and scholars interested in the creation of social movements.

Part 3 of the book continues to expand Anzaldúa’s ideas by presenting a series of images, drawings, and sketches—all of which center her ideas about Nepantla, shapeshifting, border crossing, and identity re-construction—all of which are important elements in Anzaldúa’s explanation of a “mestiza consciousness.” This section emphasizes Anzaldúa’s interest in visual images and art, which remained politicized and historical all throughout her life’s written work. The last part of the reader contains writings that continue to be theoretical in nature and expand her vision about creating and sustaining social change. For example, she writes about the effects of 9/11 and its meaning for both personal and communal healing. She elaborates about the idea of fragmentation, injury, and reinforced racism while explaining such concepts as “conocimiento,” which she defines as the creation of knowledge, experience, and interaction based on compassion. Keating includes a glossary of primary terms and concepts in order to help illuminate the complexity of these four important chronological sections. This glossary is followed by a thorough bibliography with new and previous sources that should be a solid beginning and continuation of Anzaldúan scholarship.

As a whole and as part of a wide range of Anzaldúa’s previously published works, The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader is significant because it presents important ideas about (post)colonization, nationalism, difference, identity (re)construction, sexuality, and coalition-building—all of which continue relevant to Latinas/os living in the United States. The book is a strong introduction and important addition for social justice workers, writers, teachers, and academics. Keating’s editing choices prove that Anzaldúa’s ideas began and continued to be diverse, inclusive, theoretical, and political in nature. This text is an ideal read and classroom text that should continue the conversations about race/ethnicity, gender, and sex/sexuality within Cultural Studies, Chicana/o Studies, Feminist Studies and Queer Studies.

-- Book Review by Hector Carbajal, PhD, Rhetoric and Writing Studies

© Carbajal 2011

© Carbajal 2011

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