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Embodied Activism: Gloria Anzaldúa's Journey Through Racial Discrimination

The narratives of Gloria Anzaldúa provide profound insights into prejudice and societal hostility, incorporating her personal struggles into the collective patchwork of countless lives. Her fictionalized autobiographies convey a powerful lens for scrutinizing the intricacies of social injustice. In her testimony, Anzaldúa illuminates the widespread nature of prejudice and showcases the broad impact it had on her life. Through her reminiscent storytelling, she not only projects light on the struggles of disadvantaged groups but also fosters a deeper understanding of the persisting systemic biases in society. Racialized bodies, according to her argument, could carry the burden of societal judgments, stereotypes, and discriminatory behaviors; she argues that they are the embodiment of the systematic prejudices that continue to exist in most contemporary societies (Anzaldúa, 2015). In her early version of "Borderlands," Anzaldúa transcends geographical boundaries to express a profound sense of estrangement, forever feeling like an "outsider" within the prevalent cultural milieu, she struggles to forge a solid internal connection. This elicits a moving account of navigating the complexities of identity within a broader social context (Anzaldúa, 1987). Her "Borderlands" captures the quest for internal connection, reflecting the broader concept of non-normative identities existing in a converging liminal space, echoing Foucault's ideas on normalized societies (Foucault, 1977). Liminal spaces project a wide variety of cultural, common, and racial influences that could collide. This provides a moving account of navigating complex identities within society. This uncertainty, according to Anzaldúa, is experimented with in the body, which may work as a vessel for the immense complexities of ethnic identities (Anzaldúa, 2015).

1. Anzaldúa's Tenet: Transforming Society to Defy Biases

This article explores the autobiographical narratives of this Chicana author, assessing prejudice as the central theme. Gloria Anzaldúa was a groundbreaking Chicana writer, feminist, and cultural theorist notable for her influential works, such as Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), which explored identities, borderlands, and cultural hybridity. Her writings have had an enormous effect on Chicano/a, feminist, and queer studies. She gauges numerous types of discrimination throughout her writings, stressing them as obstacles to personal development. Anzaldúa brings deep understanding into the barriers that marginalized individuals address in their pursuit of fulfillment through her narratives (Anzaldúa, 2015). This analysis intends to demonstrate that her works not only challenge societal prejudices, but also advocate for radical change. She compels individuals toward self-love and collective action, imploring them to confront and dismantle the systemic origins of societal unfairness (Anzaldúa, 2015). Spiritual activism, according to Anzaldúa, permeates all aspects of existence and brings about a profound, lasting renovation that has the potential to transcend the physical domain (Anzaldúa, 2015). This perspective embraces a holistic comprehension of reality, rooted in a particular cultural or spiritual tradition. Recognizing her connection to this fundamental reality can combat alienation and hopelessness. This viewpoint emphasizes the significance of reclaiming diverse worldviews and knowledge systems, offering a path to healing and empowerment by reconnecting with cultural, spiritual, and historical origins. She claims that "a source reality exists, and both physical and nonphysical worlds emanate from it, forming a secondary reality. When you catch glimpses of this invisible primary reality and realize you're connected to it, feelings of alienation and hopelessness disappear” (Anzaldúa, 2015, p. 38).

She postulates that the primary reality that gives rise to the physical realms could be surpassed, thereby establishing a secondary reality. In her view, recognizing this connection can dispel alienation towards a quest to transformative power. She investigates the impact of sensory impressions on political dynamics, utilizing corporeal encounters as a canvas for the creation of new spiritually grounded realities. Her distinctive methodology examines the construction of the political body in artistic endeavors. In academic and activist contexts, Anzaldua’s epistemology resonates, fostering transformative dialogues on race, identity, and unyielding resistance (Anzaldúa, 2015). She discusses how the limitations of perception can be transcended, extending perception beyond the confines of the body to transform our consciousness and perception from ordinary reality to spiritual/magical/other reality, and enter states of no ordinary reality. In her view, by trespassing the ordinary limits of perception, she escapes the physical limits into imagining an alternative reality: “By transferring our consciousness, we can travel between worlds/dimensions” (Anzaldúa, 2015, p. 45). By offering this perspective, she advocates for a holistic approach to comprehending and reshaping the sociocultural terrain. This could demonstrate her commitment to a deeper, more inclusive understanding of the complexities that shape the human experience and engagement with the world (Anzaldúa, 2015).

Figure 1: Woman texture young portrait (Montrazi, 2021).

Anzaldua's literary voice delves into the complexities of surviving in a society distinguished by discrimination against individuals of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, steadfastly challenging the established order to enact her activism. Through these inquiries, she intends to shed light on the transcendent significance of intellectual engagement that could excel the confines of the written word. Anzaldua’s writings are a powerful reminder of the never-ending struggle against racial discrimination (Anzaldúa, 2015). Through the strategic use of her (core) traumatic memoirs, Anzaldúa sought to mend her spiritual wounds, symbolizing a lifelong quest for solace amid the racial and social hierarchies she confronted. Her experiences vividly illustrate the courage required to manifest one's individuality in the face of societal norms, while also illuminating the difficulties inherent in navigating a system rife with racial intolerance, a challenge shared by the Chicano population in the United States (Anzaldúa, 1987). Her body of work is a comprehensive examination of the complex processes involved in managing personal identity within dominant cultural norms.

2. Resisting Racism: Body Perspectives

As it has been brought to attention in the first section of this article, Anzaldúa's work reverberates with a message to encourage resilience in bodies confronting racial exclusion. Her methodology recognizes the body as a nexus where multiple forms of oppression converge, resulting in a complex web of trauma. Her perspective emphasizes the critical significance of comprehending and addressing the multifaceted nature of oppression and calls for an all-inclusive strategy to eliminate systemic disparities (Anzaldúa, 2015). Anzaldua’s work examines the intricate web of social hierarchies entrenched in societies. In her struggle against society's gendered and racist expectations, her body, which could be shaped by race in the surface, becomes the focal focus of her resistance. Anzaldua's narrative vividly depicts the inner conflict she faces as she strives to maintain her identity as a “borderlander” while having to put up with societal conventions:

I wonder who I used to be (the chicanita del rancho totally immersed in mexicano culture), I wonder who I am now (living in a California beach town known as paradise). My identity keeps constantly shifting—being Chicana or queer or writer is not enough. I'm more mestiza than any particular identity. The border artist constantly reinvents her/himself. Through art, s/he is able to reread, reinterpret, re-envision, and reconstruct her/his culture's present, as well as its past (Anzaldúa, 2015, pp. 59-60).

Figure 2: Gloria Anzaldúa (Valva, n.d.).

When she considers the labels ascribed to her, she also considers the concept of whiteness, emphasizing the complex relationship between identity, collective expectations, and the pervasive influence of racial categorizations. Anzaldúa deftly demonstrates how the U.S. society imposes specific behavioral norms based on gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, thereby placing individuals in predetermined categories (Anzaldúa, 2015). Anzaldua’s introspection describes the inner conflicts she experienced because of encountering discrimination and marginalization in a system that prioritized the social acceptability of whiteness: “A white poet doesn't write "white" in front of his name, nor is s/he referred to as "white" by others. A doctor is presumed to be white and male unless labelled otherwise” (Anzaldúa, 2015, p. 59). This quote portrays Anzaldua’s resistance towards oppressive forces that seek to marginalize those who are different. This could stand as a testament to the unwavering fortitude and undeniable worth of these individuals. Her consideration of the labels affixed to her identity, particularly "Chicana" and "border" artist, demonstrates how these terms can influence societal anticipations. This contrasts with the default supposition of whiteness in numerous other contexts. She aims to demonstrate the pervasive effect of labels on perception and highlights the need for greater recognition of diverse identities and experiences. Anzaldúa employs the body as both a foundational methodology and a political platform in her epistemology. Anzaldúa explores the political and aesthetic dimensions of corporeal imagery, viewing it not only as a form of resistance but also to encourage for representation to wear off a variety of cultural, racial, gender, and sexual trademarks. Her meticulous examination of the body as a site of interconnecting oppressions and as a vessel for political and artistic expression embodies a potent call to action for a more inclusive, nuanced understanding of the human experience in the context of a diverse and complex world (Anzaldúa, 2015).

She considers the profound ramifications for artists who push the limits of corporeal boundaries in their pursuit of union with "the other". She illuminates how individuals and communities can forge resistance against oppressive forces. The tenacity demonstrated by individuals and communities in the face of overbearing forces is a testament to the resolute fortitude and unquestionable worth inherent in their bodies, and a tribute to the unyielding spirit that resides within them. Anzaldua’s analysis of the body as a repository of xenophobia elucidates the depth and intensity of racialized experiences with a prominent clarity (Anzaldúa, 2015). This interaction between societal expectations, ethnicity, and gender is central to Anzaldua’s radical message. She seeks to foster a more empathetic understanding of the challenges encountered by marginalized communities by highlighting the interaction of multiple forms of prejudice by sharing her testimony. Not only she intends to heal her inner wounds but also writes for the collective reality of many others. By doing so, she highlights the increased pressures faced by people of color, which are exacerbated by the lasting traumas of intolerance. This shared experience demonstrates the pervasive and systemic character of these problems in marginalized communities (Anzaldúa, 2015).

Figure 3: Commitment to anti racism (Ernst & Young Global Limited, n.d.).

3. Anzaldua's Narratives: Unearthing Racism and Identity Struggles

One might consider narration as a mechanism that could be a potent catalyst for dismantling deeply entrenched power structures and confronting the pervasive specter of racial discrimination. Anzaldua’s life experiences portray a perpetual struggle that compelled her to strike a balance between conforming to societal conventions and embracing her ancestry. The quote that follows will show the unavoidable reality of racialized experiences (Anzaldúa, 2015). She openly underscores the profound impact of societal expectations on individuals. Her realization that she cannot influence how others perceive her, combined with the ongoing racialization of her body, illustrates the ingrained nature of racism in many societies:

My body is raced; I can´t escape that reality, can´t control how other people perceive me, can´t derace, e-race my body, or the reality of its raced-ness. U.S. society is gendered and racialized; it expects certain behavior from women, certain bearings from men, certain comportment from queer mujeres, certain demeanor from queer hombres, certain conduct from disabled, and so on. If you´re a person of color, those expectations take on more pronounced nuances due to the traumas of racism and colonization (Anzaldúa, 2015, p. 65).

Hence, this fight was harder by the fact that she feared being socially marginalized because of embracing her Mexican identity. Anzaldúa went through ambiguous thoughts even regarding her cultural preferences and interests out of distress of being discriminated against because of her racial origin. The pressure to conform to societal cultural norms resulted in her complex relationship with music, illustrative of the difficulties she encountered in delineating even her musical preferences. She narrates the ways in which a predilection for country-western and rock-and-roll music signified socioeconomic standing, while embracing her own cultural music carried a sense of guilt (Anzaldúa, 1987). Nevertheless, and despite eternal pressure, she was unable to resist her natural connection to her culture's music, which allowed her to feel joy and exhilaration despite the prejudices that society held against it, she narrates a corporal experience:

Figure 4: Man festival in costume for celebration (Wolf, 2022).

I grew up feeling ambivalent about our music. Country-western and rock-and-roll had more status. In the 50s and 60s, for the slightly educated and agringado Chicanos, there existed a sense of shame at being caught listening to our music. Yet I couldn´t stop my feet from thumping to the music, could not stop humming the words, nor hide from myself the exhilaration I felt when I heard it (Anzaldúa, 1987, p. 83).

The quote above portrays her physical reaction to Mexican music, she felt it deep inside her and her body reacted to it. The inner upheaval that she went through throws light on the toll that it takes to be unable to completely embrace one's cultural background while simultaneously living in fear of social exclusion because of racial inequities. The experiences of Anzaldúa provide invaluable insight into the profound effects of racial discrimination on a person's sense of fitting and self-identity. Her narratives reveal the enduring conflict between conforming to prevalent cultural norms and embracing one's unique heritage, a predicament further complicated by the pervasive presence of racial prejudice, which casts a long, oppressive shadow over the search for belonging (Anzaldúa, 2015). This liminal reality is a poignant reminder of the layered complexities that marginalized communities confront and she emphasizes that people from the margins, who are aware of the social construction racism, have the chance to surpass their immediate realites: “Chamanas, curanderas, artistas, and spiritual activists, like nepantleras, are liminal people, at the thresholds of form, forever betwixt and between. They move among different realities and psychic states, journeying beyond the natural order or status quo and into other worlds” (Anzaldúa, 2015, p. 31). This quote portrays how Anzaldúa narrates her personal odyssey felt in the body to become a beacon for others navigating the treacherous waters of identity and belonging in the face of systemic preconception:

Struggling with a "story" (a concept or theory), embracing personal and social identity, is a bodily activity. The narrative works itself through my physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies, which emerge out of and are filtered through the natural, spiritual worlds around me (Anzaldúa, 2015, p. 66).

Figure 5: Photo of a silhouette of man making sign of heart during the golden hour (Shihab Nymur, 2017).

Anzaldúa argues that attaining self-acceptance requires a profound reconnection with the physical self, including self-love practices and the revival of cultural and ancestral traditions. This voyage, she remarks, is a holistic and embodied process, interweaving personal and social identities. It develops through the complex interaction of physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions, all of which are profoundly shaped by the natural and spiritual domains (Anzaldúa, 2015).

4. Final thoughts

In conclusion, Gloria Anzaldua’s life experiences, personal perspectives, and literary voice collectively reveal the complexities of societal expectations, racial discrimination, and the pursuit of cultural authenticity. This article has been envisioned to examine some selected narratives to provide a comprehensive examination of the multifaceted dimensions of her activist message, casting light on the lasting effects of these experiences and the enduring sense of being an outsider. Her writings provide invaluable insights into the intricate dynamics of identity negotiation within dominant cultural paradigms, illuminating the conflicts between conformity and heritage. Anzaldua’s prose serves as a guide for those navigating the complexities of identity and belonging in the face of systemic bias.

In addition to elucidating the profound impact of ethnic discrimination and colonization on Gloria Anzaldua’s life, this analysis seeks to inspire a continued commitment to justice and inclusiveness. Her advocacy for the acceptance of diversity, the celebration of varied cultural identities, and the dismantling of power structures that perpetuate intolerance remains a potent call to action. This investigation examines both Anzaldua's autobiographical narratives and the body as a methodological and political focal point. This study has also investigated the intricate mechanisms by which Anzaldua's narrative serves as a potent catalyst for dismantling deeply entrenched power structures, thereby challenging the pervasive specter of racial discrimination.

Bibliographical References

Anzaldúa, G. (1987). Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. First Edition, San Francisco: Spinsters/ Aunt Luke Book Company.

Anzaldúa, G. (2015). Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Chabram-Dernersesian, A. (2006). The Chicana/o Cultural Stories Reader. New York & London: Routledge.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. London: Penguin Books.

González Herrera, C. (2008). La Frontera que Vino del Norte. México:Taurus.

Maciel, D. R., Gómez-Quiñones, J., & Griswold del Castillo, R. (2018). La Creación de la Nación Chicana. Perspectivas Historiográficas. Ciudad de México: Siglo Veintiuno.

Noriega, C. et al., eds. (2001). The Chicano Studies Reader: An Anthology of Aztlán, 1970-2000. Los Angeles, California: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

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Daniela Sandoval

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