What are 'Borderlands Narratives'?

Narratives are stories: stories we hear, stories we tell others, stories we tell ourselves. Sometimes these stories are old ones, and may sound familiar. Sometimes these stories are brand new, stories that have emerged in our own lifetimes. The stories we will discuss on this site are stories of and about the Mexican-U.S. borderlands, that frontier zone in which people live, work, and play. We will be responding to our sources and to each other's views on this site, and we invite YOU to join us in our discussions and explorations.

A disclaimer: We are not experts! In addition to reading (or viewing) this collection of narratives for the first time, we are all in the process of learning about this unique cultural space and its history. Please use caution when reading OUR narratives, and make sure to cite us: http://www.borderlandsnarratives.blogspot.com/

This blog has been constucted by Professor Geneva M. Gano's American Studies class at Indiana University, Bloomington, in Spring 2010 and Spring 2011. Responses to our posts are welcomed!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gloria Anzaldúa, "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


  1. Was this poem published in Borderlands/La Frontera? I looked Anzaldua up on Wikipedia (I know, I know...bad source) and found this:

    "One of her major contributions was her introduction to United States academic audiences of the term mestizaje, meaning a state of being beyond binary ('either-or') conception, into academic writing and discussion. In her theoretical works, Anzaldúa calls for a 'new mestiza,' which she describes as an individual aware of her conflicting and meshing identities and uses these 'new angles of vision' to challenge binary thinking in the Western world. The 'new mestiza' way of thinking is illustrated in postcolonial feminism."

    This quote is interesting in light of the borderlands article, as this idea seems to be important in transforming current (and continuing through future) academic thought. I see the idea of "mestizaje," this "beyond the binary" state of being, quite often in the work I do in relation to queer theory and Filipino-American fiction, though not always called by that name. It is interesting to me how far-reaching this is in touching aspects of every day life, such as identity politics. Furthermore and simultaneously, the idea breaks down so many assumptions of the very experience of race and culture by stepping outside of what we think we know (based mostly on our own experiences). And the question to consider, I suppose, would be just that: What does this tell us about constructions/understandings of race...our own and others'?

  2. Yes, this poem is from Borderlands/La Frontera. It really encapsulates a lot that is in that essay we read for class (also from the same book). The book is really life-transforming; I highly recommend it!

  3. This poem is a great work depicting the differences that can take place at the borderlands. It reminded me of the short piece that we read at the beginning of the year, from Gomez-Pena, where he discussed the melting pot that is the borderlands. A striking line that I really enjoyed near the middle of the work was "speak tex-mex with a brooklyn accent." I feel that that line tells the story in short of what this poem is about, because in conclusion the author ends with to survive there you must not have borders. So I feel that all the different people and places one has ties to must all be embraced and none hidden, or cast aside.

    Ben Rains