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HUMAN ARCHITECTURE: JOURNAL OF THE SOCIOLOGY OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE

A Publication of OKCIR: The Omar Khayyam Center for Integrative Research in Utopia, Mysticism, and Science (Utopystics)
HUMAN
ARCHITECTURE ISSN: 1540-5699. Copyright by Ahead Publishing House (imprint: Okcir Press). All Rights Reserved.
Journal of the Sociology of Self-

From Borderlands and New Mestizas to


Nepantlas and Nepantleras
Anzaldan Theories for Social Change

AnaLouise Keating
Texas Womans University

akeating@twu.edu

Abstract: Perhaps not surprisinglygiven the multifaceted nature of Borderlands and the diver-
sity of Anzaldas other writingsreaders have overlooked additional, equally important
dimensions of her work, leaving what Anzalda might call blank spots that prevent us from
grasping the radical nature of her vision for social change and the crucial ways her theories have
developed since the 1987 publication of Borderlands. Even as scholars continue exploring Border-
lands, it is my hope that we will also investigate and write about Anzaldas pre- and post-
Borderlands ideas, especially a variety of interlinked theories she was working on at the time of
her deathincluding, but not limited to: new tribalism; geography of selves; el mundo
zurdo; spiritual activism; la naguala, or watcher; the Coyolxauhqui imperative; the
imaginal; autohistoria/autohistoria-teora; nos/otras; conocimiento; nepantla; and
nepantleras. These Anzaldan theories (as well as others) have not yet received the attention
they merit. These concepts are crucial for those scholars hoping to understand the development
of her thinking and the complexity of her work. More importantly for my argument here, these
theories offer very useful tools for social change. In this article, I briefly discuss five of these the-
ories: nepantla and nepantleras, nos/otras, conocimiento, and spiritual activism.

I am a wind-swayed bridge, a World, say my Black and Asian


crossroads inhabited by whirl- friends. Your allegiance is to your
winds. Gloria, the facilitator, Gloria gender, to women, say the femi-
the mediator, straddling the walls nists. Then theres my allegiance to
between abysses. Your allegiance the Gay movement, to the socialist
is to La Raza, the Chicano move- revolution, to the New Age, to
ment, say the members of my race. magic and the occult. And theres
Your allegiance is to the Third my affinity to literature, to the

AnaLouise Keating is Associate Professor of Womens Studies at Texas Womans University where she teaches courses on
U.S. women of colors, feminist epistemologies, feminist theories, and Gloria Anzalda. Her most recent book is EntreM-
undos/AmongWorlds: New Perspectives on Gloria Anzalda. Keatings publications include this bridge we call home: radical
visions for transformation (co-edited with Gloria Anzalda) and Women Reading Women Writing: Self-Invention in Paula Gunn
Allen, Gloria Anzalda, and Audre Lorde. Editor of Anzaldas Interviews/Entrevistas and co-editor of Perspectives: Gender
Studies, Keating has published articles on critical race theory, queer theory, Latina writers, African-American women
writers, and pedagogy.

HUMAN ARCHITECTURE: JOURNAL OF THE SOCIOLOGY OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE, IV, SPECIAL ISSUE, SUMMER 2006, 5-16 5
6 ANALOUISE KEATING

world of the artist. What am I? A inform her theoretical perspectives and


third world lesbian feminist with shape her work. Her movements among
Marxist and mystic leanings. Who, worlds influenced the projects she adopted,
me confused? Ambivalent? Not so. the theories she invented, her critiques of
Only your labels split me. rigid identity categories, and her lifelong
Gloria E. Anzalda, La Prieta efforts to develop inclusionary transcultur-
(her italics) al movements for social justice. Anzalda
was not naive; she realized how difficult
I begin with this quotation, drawn from transformation could be, and she was
one of Gloria Anzaldas earliest published aware of the many insidious ways resis-
essays, because it so effectively illustrates tance to change can paralyze social actors.
Anzaldas personal integrity, inclusionary However, she remained what Chela Sando-
politics, and expansive theorizing. The old- val describes as a resolute theorist of
est child of seventh-generation mexicanos hope (xiii).
from the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, Anzalda was a nepantleraa term
Anzalda participated in a number of dif- she coined to describe a unique type of vi-
ferent worlds: the public, often specialized sionary cultural worker.1 Nepantleras are
spaces of academia, art, and publishing; the threshold people: they move within and
private spaces of family, spirits, and among multiple, often conflicting, worlds
friends; and the political spaces of Chi- and refuse to align themselves exclusively
can@s, Latin@s, feminists, U.S. women of with any single individual, group, or belief
colors, queers, and other progressive social system. This refusal is not easy; nepantleras
actors. Moving among these diverse must be willing to open themselves to per-
worlds, Anzalda would not be contained sonal risks and potential woundings which
within any single group or location. Al- include, but are not limited to, self-division,
though each group tried to make member- isolation, misunderstanding, rejection, and
ship contingent on its own exclusionary set accusations of disloyalty. Yet the risk-tak-
of demands, Anzalda refused their rules ing has its own rewards, for nepantleras
without rejecting the people or groups use their movements among divergent
themselves. At great personal risk, she ex- worlds to develop innovative, potentially
posed the limitations in the labels and the transformative perspectives. They respect
flaws in the various forms of group-think the differences within and among the di-
on which such labels rely. Thus, for exam- verse groups and, simultaneously, posit
ple, in the opening epigraph Anzalda po- commonalities. As Anzalda explains in
sitions herself on the thresholdssimulta- now let us shiftthe path of conocimien-
neously inside and outside a number of toinner work, public acts, nepantleras
groupsand uses her threshold perspec- recognize the deep common ground and
tive to challenge the status quo. By so do- interwoven kinship among all things and
ing, she replaces restrictive identity politics people (567-68) and attempt to awaken
with a broader call for new forms of com- this recognition in others. By so doing, they
munities or what she describes in La Prie- make possible new forms of community
ta and now let us shift as el mundo and new types of social action.
zurdoa visionary place where people A versatile author, Anzalda published
from diverse backgrounds with diverse in a variety of genres: theoretical essays,
needs and concerns co-exist and work to- poetry, short stories, autobiographical nar-
gether to bring about revolutionary change. ratives, interviews, childrens books, and
Anzaldas experiences moving with- multigenre edited and co-edited collec-
in, between, and among multiple worlds tions. (See the appendix at the end of this

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FROM BORDERLANDS AND NEW MESTIZAS TO NEPANTLAS AND NEPANTLERAS: 7

article for a list of her publications.) As one cited, has challenged and expanded previ-
of the first openly lesbian Chicana writers, ous views in many academic disciplines,
Anzalda played a major role in defining ranging from American studies to queer
Chicana/o, queer, and female identities. theory.4 As Sonia Saldvar-Hull notes, Bor-
And as editor or co-editor of three multicul- derlands is [a] transfrontera, transdisci-
tural, multigenre feminist anthologies, she plinary text [which has] traveled be-
played an equally crucial role in develop- tween many disciplines (12-13). Scholars
ing inclusionary movements for social jus- have used Anzaldas theories of the new
tice. Although she worked outside the uni- mestiza, the Borderlands, and mestiza
versity system (except for selective teach- consciousness to critique and revise their
ing engagements and conference speaking disciplinary paradigms and contemporary
gigs), her impact on many academic disci- identity-based issues.
plinesincluding (but not limited to) But perhaps not surprisinglygiven
American studies, Chicana/o studies, com- the multifaceted nature of Borderlands and
position studies, cultural studies, ethnic the diversity of Anzaldas other writ-
studies, feminism/feminist theory, literary ingsreaders have overlooked additional,
studies, queer theory, and womens stud- equally important dimensions of her work,
ieshas been immense. Her words speak leaving what Anzalda might call blank
to many people on a variety of levels. Her spots that prevent us from grasping the
writings have been included in over 100 an- radical nature of her vision for social
thologies to date2and I predict that this change and the crucial ways her theories
number will grow much larger during the have developed since the 1987 publication
twenty-first century. of Borderlands.5 As Anzalda points out in
The Third Annual Social Theory Fo- an interview, Borderlands is not a self-en-
rum, Human Rights, Borderlands, and the closed entity but rather part of a larger, life-
Poetics of Applied Social Theory: Engaging long project: [Its] just one project of this
with Gloria Anzalda in Self and Global overall umbrella project that is my lifes
Transformations, represents an exciting work, my lifes writing. Borderlands is just
milestone in the development of An- one hit on it. All of my books are parts of
zaldan studies. Although Anzaldas the- this project (Interviews/Entrevistas 268).
ories and writings have impacted many Even as scholars continue exploring
disciplines (especially in the humanities), Borderlands, it is my hope that we will also
few mainstream sociologists or other so- investigate and write about Anzaldas
cial scientists have taken up her works.3 As pre- and post-Borderlands ideas, especially
the rich diversity of papers presented at the those she was working on at the time of her
2006 Social Theory Forum indicates, An- death. In fact, I feel passionate about this.
zaldas theories have much to offer social Gloria devoted her life to her writing. La
scientistsespecially those scholars inter- musa bruja was her lover, her intimate
ested in combining cutting-edge theory companion. If we stop with Borderlands, we
with social justice. waste a large portion of her life. At the time
In this article, I hope to contribute to of her departure, Anzalda was working
this growing interest in Anzaldas work on a variety of interlinked theories, includ-
by summarizing a few of her recent theo- ing (but not limited to) the following: new
ries. Although I focus specifically on An- tribalism; geography of selves; el mun-
zaldas post-Borderlands writings, I want do zurdo; spiritual activism; la nagua-
to emphasize that I do so not out of disre- la, or watcher; the Coyolxauhqui impera-
spect for Borderlands/La frontera. This book, tive; the imaginal; autohistoria/
which is frequently anthologized and often autohistoria-teora; nos/otras; cono-

HUMAN ARCHITECTURE: JOURNAL OF THE SOCIOLOGY OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE, IV, SPECIAL ISSUE, SUMMER 2006
8 ANALOUISE KEATING

cimiento; nepantla; and nepantleras.6 as an experience of reality from a


These Anzaldan theories (as well as particular perspective and a specif-
others) have not yet received the attention ic time and place (history), not as a
they merit. These concepts are crucial for fixed feature of personality or iden-
those scholars hoping to understand the tity. (Gloria E. Anzalda, now let
development of her thinking and the com- us shift)
plexity of her work. These theories-in-the-
making interact with, expand on, and in Nepantla is Nahuatl word meaning
other ways enrich Anzaldas better- in-between space. Anzalda adopted
known theories of the borderlands, mesti- this term, and used it to represent psychic/
zaje, and mestiza consciousness. More im- spiritual/material points of potential trans-
portantly for my argument here, these the- formation. In Anzaldas writings,
ories offer very useful tools for social nepantla represents both an extension of
change. In the following pages, I discuss and an elaboration on her theories of the
five of these theories: nepantla and Borderlands and the Coatlicue state (de-
nepantleras, nos/otras, conocimiento, and scribed in Borderlands). Like her theory of
spiritual activism. Reader beware! I do not the Borderlands, nepantla indicates liminal
offer fully developed analyses of these space where transformation can occur, and
terms. I hope that readers of this journal like her theory of the Coatlicue state,
will explore Anzaldas theories and find nepantla indicates space/times of great
ways to apply them to their own research confusion, anxiety, and loss of control. But
and life. with nepantla, Anzalda underscores and
expands the spiritual, psychic, supernatu-
NEPANTLA & NEPANTLERAS ral, and indigenous dimensions. As she
explains in Interviews/Entrevistas,
Living between cultures results in
I found that people were using
seeing double, first from the per-
Borderlands in a more limited
spective of one culture, then from
sense than I had meant it. So to
the perspective of another. Seeing
elaborate on the psychic and emo-
from two or more perspectives si-
tional borderlands Im now using
multaneously renders those cul-
nepantla. With the nepantla
tures transparent. Removed from
paradigm I try to theorize unartic-
that cultures center you glimpse
ulated dimensions of the experi-
the sea in which youve been im-
ence of mestizas living in between
mersed but to which you were
overlapping and layered spaces of
oblivious, no longer seeing the
different cultures and social and
world the way you were encultur-
geographic locations, of events and
ated to see it. From the in between
realitiespsychological, sociologi-
place of nepantla you see through
cal, political, spiritual, historical,
the fiction of the monoculture, the
creative, imagined. (176)
myth of the superiority of the
white races. And eventually you
Nepantlaas process, liminality, and
begin seeing through your ethnic
changeoccurs during the many transi-
cultures myth of the inferiority of
tional stages of life and can be used to de-
mujeres. As you struggle to form a
scribe a variety of issues related to identity
new identity a demythologization
and epistemology. At times Anzalda asso-
of race occurs. You begin to see race
ciates nepantla with identity-related issues.

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FROM BORDERLANDS AND NEW MESTIZAS TO NEPANTLAS AND NEPANTLERAS: 9

For instance, in the interview with Debra view,


Blake, she describes it as a birthing stage
where you feel like youre reconfiguring Nepantleras are the supreme bor-
your identity and dont know where you der crossers. They act as intermedi-
are. You used to be this person, but now aries between cultures and their
maybe youre different in some way. Youre various versions of reality. They
changing worlds and cultures and maybe serve as agents of awakening, in-
classes, sexual preferences (Interviews/En- spire and challenge others to deep-
trevistas 225-26). At other times, she associ- er awareness, greater conocimien-
ates nepantla with the minds creative fac- to, serve as reminders of each oth-
ulty. In Putting Coyolxauhqui Together, ers search for wholeness of being.
for example, she describes nepantla as her (Speaking Across the Divide 20)
symbol for the transitional process, both
conscious and unconscious, that bridges Although it might be tempting to cele-
different kinds of activities by moving be- brate nepantleras for their ability to move
tween and among different parts of the among so many divergent worlds, its im-
brain (252). portant to recognize the painful dimen-
During nepantla, our worldviews and sions of this world-traveling. Their inabili-
self-identities are shattered. Nepantla is ty or refusal to remain within a single
painful, messy, confusing, and chaotic; it group or worldview makes them vulnera-
signals unexpected, uncontrollable shifts, ble to rejection, ostracism, and other forms
transitions, and changes. Nepantla hurts!!!! of isolation.
But nepantla is also a time of self-reflection,
choice, and potential growthwhat An- NOS/OTRAS
zalda describes as opportunities to see
through restrictive cultural and personal
Living in a multicultural society,
scripts. As I understand the term, then,
we cross into each others worlds
nepantla includes both radical dis-identifi-
all the time. We live in each others
cation and transformation. We dis-identify
pockets, occupy each others terri-
with existing beliefs, social structures, and
tories, live in close proximity and
models of identity; by so doing, we are able
in intimacy with each other at
to transform these existing conditions.
home, in school, at work. We are
Some people who experience nepantla
mutually complicitousus and
states become what Anzalda calls
them, white and colored, straight
nepantleras: (in-betweeners, those
and queer, Christian and Jew, self
who facilitate passages between worlds
and Other, oppressor and op-
((Un)natural Bridges 1). Like Anzalda
pressed. We all of us find ourselves
herself, nepantleras are threshold people;
in the position of being simulta-
they live within and among multiple
neously insider/outsider. The
worlds, and develop what Anzalda de-
Spanish word nosotras means
scribes as a perspective from the cracks.
us. In theorizing insider/outsider
Nepantleras use their views from these
I write the word with a slash be-
cracks-between-worlds to invent holistic,
tween nos (us) and otras (others).
relational theories and tactics enabling
Today the division between the
them to reconceive or in other ways trans-
majority of us and them is still in
form the various worlds in which they ex-
tact. This country does not want to
ist. Nepantleras have a global conscious-
acknowledge its walls or limits, the
ness. As Anzalda explains in a 2003 inter-

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10 ANALOUISE KEATING

places some people are stopped or conectar across colors and other
stop themselves, the lines they differences to allies also trying to
arent allowed to cross. [But] the negotiate racial contradictions, sur-
future belongs to those who culti- vive the stresses and traumas of
vate cultural sensitivities to differ- daily life, and develop a spiritual-
ences and who use these abilities to imaginal-political vision together.
forge a hybrid consciousness that Conocimiento shares a sense of af-
transcends the us vs. them men- finity with all things and advocates
tality and will carry us into a no- mobilizing, organizing, sharing in-
sotras position bridging the ex- formation, knowledge, insights,
tremes of our cultural realities. and resources with other groups.
(Gloria E. Anzalda, Interviews/En- (Gloria E. Anzalda, now let us
trevistas) shift)

Anzaldas theory of nos/otras of- Conocimiento is a holistic epistemolo-


fers a unique way to discuss commonalities gy that incorporates self-reflection, imagi-
among differently situated individuals and nation, intuition, sensory experiences, ra-
peoples. Nosotras, the Spanish word for tional thought, outward-directed action,
the feminine we, indicates a collectivity, a and social-justice concerns. With her theory
type of group identity or consciousness. By of conocimiento, Anzalda expands the po-
partially dividing this word into two, An- tentially transformative elements of her
zalda affirms this collectivity yet also ac- better-known theories of mestiza con-
knowledges the divisiveness so often felt in sciousness and la facultad described in Bor-
contemporary life: nos implying us, otras, derlands/La Frontera. Like them, cono-
implying otherness. Joined together, nos + cimiento represents a nonbinary, connec-
otras holds the promise of healing: We con- tionist mode of thinking; it, too, often
tain the others, the others contain us. Sig- develops within oppressive contexts and
nificantly, Anzaldas theory of nos/otras entails a deepening of perception. But with
does not imply sameness; the differences conocimiento, Anzalda underscores and
among us still exist, but they function di- develops the imaginal, spiritual-activist,
alogically, generating previously unrecog- and political dimensions implicit in her
nized commonalities and connections or previous theories. An intensely personal,
what she describes as an unmapped com- fully embodied epistemological process
mon ground (now let us shift). that gathers information from context,
With nos/otras, Anzalda offers an al- conocimiento describes the various ways
ternative to binary self/other constella- we gather information from events, emo-
tions, a philosophy and praxis enabling us tions, memories, dreams, and other ele-
simultaneously to acknowledge and to ments of personal experience. Conocimien-
bridge the distances between self and other. to is profoundly relational, and enables
Drawing us and them closer together, those who enact it to make insightful con-
this theory makes possible forms of unity nections among apparently disparate
that do not demand sameness but rather events, persons, experiences, and realities.
posit commonalities. These connections, in turn, lead to action.
Anzalda offers her fullest discussion
CONOCIMIENTO of conocimiento to date in her 2002 essay,
now let us shiftthe path of conocimien-
toinner work, public acts, where she de-
Conocimiento es otro mode de
scribes a synergistic seven-stage theory: el

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FROM BORDERLANDS AND NEW MESTIZAS TO NEPANTLAS AND NEPANTLERAS: 11

arrebatorupture, fragmentationan ending, conocimiento Anzalda develops a ho-


a beginning; nepantlatorn between ways; listic worldview that synergistically com-
the Coatlicue statedesconocimiento and the bines social activism with spiritual vision,
cost of knowing; the callel compromisothe creating what she calls spiritual activism.
crossing and conversion; putting Coyolxau- As I define the term, spiritual activism is a
hqui togethernew personal and collective visionary, experientially-based epistemolo-
stories; the blow-upa clash of realities; gy and ethicsa way of life and a call to ac-
and shifting realitiesacting out the vision or tion. Spiritual activism is spirituality for so-
spiritual activism. Significantly, these stag- cial change, spirituality that recognizes the
es (or what Anzalda sometimes refers to many differences among us yet insists on
as spaces) are recursive and nonlinear. our commonalities and uses these com-
Anzaldas theory of conocimiento is espe- monalities as catalysts for transformation.
cially useful for those readers interested in To be sure, the phrase spiritual activism
the systemic dimensions of Anzaldan the- seems like a contradiction in terms: On the
ory. As Kelli Zaytoun asserts, Anzaldas one hand, the word spiritual is often as-
theory of conocimiento best encapsulates sumed to indicate an other-worldly, in-
her perspectives on the growth of con- ward-looking worldview that encourages
sciousness and indicates pathways toward escape from and at times even denial of so-
multiple individual/collective visions cial injustices. On the other hand, the word
(153). activism is often assumed to indicate out-
ward-directed engagement with and action
SPIRITUAL ACTIVISM in the material world, the very world that
spirituality seems to reject or downplay. Yet
for Anzalda, these two worlds and world-
With awe and wonder you look
views are not separate. The spiritual/mate-
around, recognizing the precious-
rial, inner/outer, individual/collective di-
ness of the earth, the sanctity of ev-
mensions of life are parts of a larger
ery human being on the planet, the
wholeinterjoined in a complex, interwo-
ultimate unity and interdepen-
ven pattern.
dence of all beingssomos todos
This synergistic synthesis of apparent
un paz. Love swells in your chest
opposites distinguishes spiritual activism
and shoots out of your heart
both from mainstream New Age8 move-
chakra, linking you to everyone/
ments and from conventional organized re-
everything. You share a category
ligions. Whereas New Age belief systems
of identity wider than any social
focus almost, if not entirely, on the personal
position or racial label. This cono-
and thus leave the existing oppressive so-
cimiento motivates you to work ac-
cial structures in place,9 spiritual activism
tively to see that no harm comes to
requires both the personal and the structur-
people, animals, oceanto take up
al; it starts with each individual but moves
spiritual activism and the work of
outward as we challenge and transform un-
healing. (Gloria E. Anzalda, now
just social structures. And, whereas con-
let us shift)
ventional organized religions impose au-
thority on individuals through external
In many ways, Anzaldas theory of
teachings, texts, standards, and leaders,
spiritual activism7 is the most comprehen-
spiritual activism locates authority within
sive of her theories because it could be said
each individual, individuals often scarred
to contain them all. With all of her theo-
by oppressive contacts with those they
riesranging from El Mundo Zurdo to
have encountered. As Anzalda explains in

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12 ANALOUISE KEATING

her discussion of the ways U.S. women of I believe that by changing our-
colors have used spirituality to develop selves we change the world, that
new forms of resistance, Our spirituality traveling El Mundo Zurdo path is
does not come from outside ourselves. It the path of a two-way move-
emerges when we listen to the small still menta going deep into the self
voice (Teish) within us which can empow- and an expanding out into the
er us to create actual change in the world world, a simultaneous recreation
(El Mundo Zurdo 195). of the self and a reconstruction of
Although spiritual activism begins at society. And yet, I am confused as
the level of the individual, it does not result to how to accomplish this.
in egocentrism, self-glorification, or other
types of possessive individualism. Rather, I cant discount the fact that thou-
spiritual activists combine self-reflection sands go to bed hungry every
and self-growth with outward-directed, night. The thousands that do
compassionate acts designed to bring numbing shitwork eight hours a
about material change. Look for instance at day each day of their lives. The
the way Anzalda describes the closely en- thousands that get beaten and
twined dynamics of oppression, resistance, killed every day. The millions of
and transformation in Borderlands/La women who have been burned at
Frontera: the stake, the millions who have
been raped. Where is the justice to
[t]he struggle is inner: Chicano, in- this? (208)
dio, American Indian, mojado,
mexicano, immigrant Latino, Ang- I have quoted this passage at length be-
lo in power, working class Anglo, cause it so effectively illustrates several im-
Black, Asianour psyches resem- portant dimensions of Anzaldas spiritual
ble the bordertowns and are popu- activism. For Anzalda, self-change (or
lated by the same people. The what some might call personal growth) is
struggle has always been inner, never an end in itself but instead must be
and is played out in outer terrains. part of a larger process requiring back-and-
Awareness of our situation must forth action on individual and collective
come before inner changes, which levels. As Anzaldas frank question
in turn come before changes in so- (Where is the justice to this?) indicates,
ciety. Nothing happens in the re- this transformative process is a difficult,
al world unless it first happens in complicated endeavor, filled with uncer-
the images in our heads. (87) tainty and unanswered questions. Signifi-
cantly, Anzalda does not deny the pain
Note the ways Anzalda shifts back and suffering that so often occur in this
and forth between inner struggle, outer world. She acknowledges this suffering
awareness, and social change. without flinching and, by so doing, con-
For Anzalda and other spiritual activ- fronts the paradox of personal agency and
ists, self-change and social transformation structural determinacy. Rather than ignore,
are mutually interdependent. In one of her downplay, or even resolve this contradic-
earliest published writings, La Prieta, tion, she chooses to live with it:
Anzalda describes this intricate reciprocal
process linking self-exploration with so- I cant reconcile the sight of a bat-
cial-justice actions: tered child with the belief that we
choose what happens to us, that we

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FROM BORDERLANDS AND NEW MESTIZAS TO NEPANTLAS AND NEPANTLERAS: 13

create our own world. I cannot re- intensely political, she believed in each hu-
solve this in myself. I dont know. I man beings basic goodness and potential
can only speculate, try to integrate wisdom. As I grew to know her over the
the experiences that Ive had or subsequent years, I became increasingly
have been witness to and try to impressed with the ways Glorias faith
make some sense of why we do vi- shaped her work. Despite the various
olence to each other. In short, Im forms of discrimination, oppression, and
trying to create a religion not out rejection she experienced throughout her
there somewhere, but in my gut. I life, she maintained her belief in peoples
am trying to make peace between ability to change. This belief made her an
what has happened to me, what exceptionally generous person and fueled
the world is, and what it should be. her work for social change. She consistently
(208, her italics) challenged feminists of all colors and other
social justice actors and organizations to
Fully acknowledging the suffering, as recognize and rectify their racism, ho-
well as the ambiguities, paradoxes, and un- mophobia, classism, and other descono-
certainties, Anzalda maintains her confi- cimientos.13 Significantly, she exposed the
dence in the political effectiveness of her re- hypocrisies and limitations without reject-
lational worldview. As I have argued else- ing the people or the organizations them-
where, she posits a metaphysics of selves.
interconnectedness and insists on the inter- Anzaldas visionary, sophisticated,
relatedness of all life forms.10 Drawing on hope-inflected theoriescoupled with her
indigenous philosophies, eastern thought, resistance to rigid labels and her interest in
and her own experiences, she describes a developing new alliances and identities
fluid, cosmic spirit/energy/force that em- based on affinity (or what she refers to in
bodies itself throughoutand asall exist- her preface to this bridge we call home as a
ence.11 As she explains in a 1982 interview, new tribalism)make her work vital for
Spirit exists in everything; therefore God, twenty-first-century scholars and educa-
the divine, is in everythingits in the tree, tors interested in social change. Her writ-
the swamp, the sea. Some people call it ings challenge the conventional views that
God; some call it the creative force, what- lead to stereotyping, over-generalizations,
ever. Its in everything (Interviews/Entre- and arbitrary divisions among peoples; her
vistas 100).12 Note here Anzaldas willing- theories open new spaces where innova-
ness to ascribe this interconnectivity to a tive, sometimes shocking connections can
variety of things. This flexibility is a com- occur. Her words encourage us, her read-
mon trait among spiritual activists and en- ers, to reexamine and perhaps change our
ables them to develop nonoppositional ap- perspectives; her words invite us to adopt
proaches to social change. The point here is broader, larger, deeper modes of seeing and
not Anzaldas metaphysics but rather the responding. As she asserts in her preface to
fact of interconnectivity itself. this bridge we call home, Empowerment
comes from ideasour revolution is fought
(IN)CONCLUSION with concepts, not with guns, and it is fu-
eled by vision. By focusing on what we
want to happen we change the present. The
When I first met Gloria in 1991, I was
healing images and narratives we imagine
struck by her vulnerability, her open-mind-
will eventually materialize (5).
edness, and her sensitivity to other peoples
Anzaldas writings offer us healing
alienation and pain. Deeply spiritual and
narratives and encourage us to create radi-

HUMAN ARCHITECTURE: JOURNAL OF THE SOCIOLOGY OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE, IV, SPECIAL ISSUE, SUMMER 2006
14 ANALOUISE KEATING

cal visions for transformation. In these formative, though rarely acknowledged, role in
times of relentless US American imperial- queer theorys inception.
5 Look for instance at Teresa Martinezs
ism when the multifaceted potential of de-
mocracy seems to be drained of all com- description of Anzaldas theory of mestiza
consciousness as perhaps the culmination of
plexity and used almost exclusively as a
her work, a bequest to the multiple faces and
form of group-think harnessed to corporate
voices in the borderlands. While I agree that
greed, it is crucial that we accept and extend Anzaldas theory of mestiza consciousness is
Anzaldas invitation to transformation. of great importance, to describe it as the high-
point of her career automatically dismisses
Anzaldas more recent theorizing and what-
ever work she will produce in the future.
NOTES 6 For additional information on these

Anzaldan theories and others, see the intro-


duction to and the articles in my edited collec-
I have been working on the ideas presented tion, EntreMundos/AmongWorlds: New Perspec-
in this article for many years; thanks Suzanne tives on Gloria Anzalda.
Bost, Kavitha Koshy, Irene Lara, Carrie McMas- 7 Although I first encountered the phrase
ter, Harry McMaster, and the students in my spiritual activism in Anzaldas work, the
Gloria Anzalda seminars for commenting on term is now very common term (my recent
my earlier attempts to describe Anzaldan the- Google search turned up 108,000 hits). The
ories. Thanks to Mohammad H. Tamdgidi, term has become especially popular since Rabbi
Jorge Capetillo-Ponce, Estelle Disch, Glenn Michael Lerner began using the term in the
Jacobs, and Panagiota Gounari for focusing the early twenty-first century. Although Anzalda
2006 Social Theory Forum on Anzalda. Special has been talking about spiritual activism for
thanks to Gloria Anzalda for developing such over ten years (see for example Interviews/Entre-
bold theories and for commenting on my earlier vistas 38, 178), I have no idea whether she actu-
discussions of these theories. Portions of this ally coined the term. How would one prove
essay were published in different form in my such a thing, and does it matter? My hunch is
introduction to EntreMundos. that she, along with others, began using the
1 Anzalda offers her most extensive dis-
term simultaneously, illustrating what
cussion of nepantleras, to date, in now let us Anzalda herself might refer to as a zeitgeist. I
shift. See also my essay Shifting Worlds, una should also note that my discussion of spiritual
entrada. activism represents a blending of my thoughts
2 Anzaldas writings have been included
and Anzaldas.
in highly influential, canon-building antholo- 8 I put New Age in quotation marks to
gies in literature, feminist theory, Chicana writ- emphasize my belief that this so-called New
ers, and composition. See, for instance, The Age is not really new but simply represents
Norton Anthology of American Literature; The the most recent manifestation of longstanding
Heath Anthology of American Literature; The movements and traditions.
Norton Anthology of Literature by Women; The 9 As Joel Kovel insightfully notes, Since
Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism; Infinite New Age thinking does not challenge funda-
Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature; The mental social structures, its spirituality remains
Latino/a Condition; Living Chicana Theory; Border self-preoccupied, even as it attempts to get
Texts; Feminism and Race; and other leading beyond the self: thus soul, whose essence is
anthologies. self-abandonment, is cultivated as a project of
3 See writings by Teresa Martinez and Ada
self-fulfillment (209).
Hurtado for examples of social scientists who 10 I discuss this metaphysics of intercon-
have explored Anzaldas theories. nectedness in more detail in the introduction to
4 I believe that Borderlands and Anzaldas
Anzaldas Interviews/Entrevistas.
other early writings (like La Prieta) played a 11 Anzalda was especially influenced by

Aztec and Toltec indigenous philosophies and

HUMAN ARCHITECTURE: JOURNAL OF THE SOCIOLOGY OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE, IV, SPECIAL ISSUE, SUMMER 2006
FROM BORDERLANDS AND NEW MESTIZAS TO NEPANTLAS AND NEPANTLERAS: 15

by the writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Spiritual Activism, Social Transforma-
Mother. For another example of Anzaldas tion, and the Politics of Spirit. EntreM-
metaphysics of interconnectedness, see her undos/Among Worlds: New Perspectives on
Gloria E. Anzalda. Ed. AnaLouise Keat-
statement in now let us shift: Spirit infuses ing New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
all that existsorganic and inorganictran- 241-54.
scending the categories and concepts that gov- Keating, AnaLouise. Shifting Worlds, una
ern your perception of material reality (now entrada. EntreMundos/Among Worlds:
558). New Perspectives on Gloria E. Anzalda. Ed.
12 For an in-depth discussion of spiritual AnaLouise Keating New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2005. 1-12.
activisms individual and collective dimensions
Martinez, Theresa A. The Double-Conscious-
and uses, see my Shifting Perspectives: Spiri- ness of DuBois and the Mestiza Con-
tual Activism, Social Transformation, and the sciousness of Anzalda. Race, Gender, &
Politics of Spirit. Class 9 (2002): 198-212.
Martinez, Theresa A. Making Oppositional
Culture, Making Standpoint: A Journey
into Gloria Anzaldas Borderlands.
Sociological Spectrum 25.5 (2005): 539-70.
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16 ANALOUISE KEATING

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HUMAN ARCHITECTURE: JOURNAL OF THE SOCIOLOGY OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE, IV, SPECIAL ISSUE, SUMMER 2006