The metaphorical meanings of borders in Borderlands
–book review of Borderlands
Unlike countless traditional literature and academic essays about the physical US-Mexico borders and the crossing experiences, Anzaldúa’s Borderlands explores the meanings behind such physical borders—including the psychological, cultural, spiritual, and even sexual implications behind obvious frontiers that separate two nations. Spanning from personal anecdotes to strong and rebellious rhetoric, and from spiritual tales to lyrical poems, the book encompasses the author’s wisdom on her identities, race, and gender. The book especially offers special insights into the outcomes of century-long history of colonization and oppression, and it speaks up angrily against what the author calls “linguistic terrorism” and “institutionalized oppression”—which largely comes from a mindset that separates cultures into dominant and inferior ones.
To Anzaldúa, borders are not simply the lines that divide territories of a different sovereign nations. In the book, she gives more meaning to borders by describing it as a psychological one. In a metaphorical sense, the borders are created by the dominant culture that separates the whites from the “uncivilized”.
Besides being psychological, borders—the creation of those in power—can also be ideological. Borders not only separate lands from one another but also express differences explicitly through its existence. Anzaldúa writes that borders distinguish “the safe” from “the unsafe” and establishes an “us” against “them” mentality; border is an ideological dividing line that permeates stereotypes and biases against the other unknown side across the line. As Anzaldúa writes, “a borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary.”
The US-Mexican border marks the transition between the “core” and the “periphery”: Anzaldúa describes the U.S-Mexican border as “una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds.” She believes in such things as “a border culture”, which forms when two worlds (the first and the third) collides.
In many ways, borders are ideological, psychological, and cultural, as it celebrates some kind of “alien consciousness”, which Anzaldúa calls the “consciousness of the Borderlands”. Anzaldúa even argues that borderlands exist whenever “two or more cultures edge each other”, and in this case, borders become the barriers that separate, divide, and alienate, instead of encouraging connection, intimacy, and understanding.
Including many myths of her culture and from her childhood memories, the author also develops the idea that borderlands can be largely spiritual. However, she points out poignantly that what empowers herself from her culture is often deemed inferior by many anthropologists. There, she adds an ironic layer of meaning to borderlands, as people across the border magnify differences to judge and hate.
In my favorite paragraph of the book, Anzaldúa writes, “White anthropologists claim that Indians have ‘primitive’ and therefore deficient minds, that we cannot think in the higher mode of consciousness-rationality. They are fascinated by what they call the ‘magical’ mind, the ‘savage’ mind, the participation mystique of the mind that says the world of the imagination-the world of the soul-and of the spirit is just as real as physical reality. In trying to become ‘objective,’ Western culture made ‘objects’ of things and people when it distanced itself from them, thereby losing ‘touch’ with them. This dichotomy is the root of all violence.”
Here, the author points out that by standing across the border and viewing the other culture from far away without taking a close look to understand, the people with the dominant culture inevitably fuel senses of superiority into their judgements of a different culture that appeared like a primitive and backward one.
The book itself challenges the narratives that describe the Chicano culture as primitive. Using poetry and including Spanish in English lines, Anzaldúa shows the audiences that her culture is colorful, buoyant, complex, and beautiful. Challenging linguistic terrorism, her book alone argues that the Chicanos are distinct groups of people with unique identities and languages; the food that she loves and remembers from childhood tells a similar story of cultural uniqueness. Throughout her book, she sends out a strong message that her culture is valid, important, and deserves basic respect.
Finally, and very interestingly, Anzaldúa connects the notion of borders to a gendered layer, arguing in a feminist lens that borderlands are also sexual. Throughout her book, she creates a strong parallel between the experiences of Chicanos in the Anglo culture and the experiences of women living under patriarchy and homosexuals living in a straight world. It is true that race and gender intersects so much that it is impossible to talk about once without mentioning the other, and Anzaldúa does so powerfully in the book, as a queer Chicana woman who lives in a society that marginalizes her.
The book is a very enjoyable read: as the author shifts from recounting colonial history of her land to telling her own border stories, the audiences also travel from the lands to her beautiful mind. Anzaldúa’s book makes me believe that literature can not only empower the author/poet herself but also empower one culture and race in a rebellious and even defiant manner that manifests self-worth, self-recognition, and self-determination.