On Gloria Anzaldúa

The first time I came across Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands, I was 17 and a senior in high school. I hated it. Like, really hated it.

I came across Anzaldúa again during an exploration of feminist literature for a women’s studies class in college. I liked her a little better, but found her style of inserting snippets of Spanish into her writing annoyingly pretentious.

(This stems from an upper-level Shakespeare class I took the summer between my junior and senior years of college. On the first day, the professor asked us to go around the room and give an example of “fool.” When we got to the girl sitting next to me, she said smoothly, “I have a highbrow and a lowbrow example for you.” I rolled my eyes. I would later go on to hear the professor telling the girl that it was unnecessary [subtext: pretentious and douchey] to put so many French quotations in her papers.)

I have no idea why I initially disliked Anzaldúa so much. Her writing isn’t really pretentious.  It’s honest. It’s the product of her cultures, and her experiences, and her feelings. (After I post this, I’m going to find my box of file folders and dig through it to find notes on why I hated Borderlands so much the first time. I bet it’s a seriously silly reason.)

Her writings influenced the lesson that my AP English teacher taught about segmentation in the mind. I remember it as this: as the human brain learns new information, it attempts to categorize that information, and puts it into the boxes that it already has established. Woman. Dog. Boy. Adult. And so on. Each box exists as a separate container for information.

(I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’ve never been great with a straight line. I am also aware of the fact that I have the handwriting of an 8th grade girl. I was one once,  you know.)

The identity of a person doesn’t fit into just one box. An identity is a combination of boxes, all jumbled together to form a bigger picture of the whole.

Anzaldúa’s writing focuses on her lack of a concrete identity (belonging entirely to one box) since she is mixed-race and a lesbian, and therefore inhabits many boxes within many other boxes, hence the title Borderlands. Being both of those can get difficult, especially in a society that does not seem to value diversity.

As a college student, I was more receptive to her writing style, although I’m not sure that I was as gung-ho on her as I was on other authors (Judith Butler, I love you).

The idea of not fitting in entirely is not a foreign concept to most people. Granted, as a straight white chick, I will never quite understand the implications of being part of both racial and sexual orientation minorities, but the inability to truly identify as something concrete is something that I struggle with as I attempt to accept that I’ll never know who my birth father was and as I process the larger implications of being adopted as I enter adulthood (although the possibility of being part Vulcan or Russian or English or German or Elfish or Canadian is always exciting, I guess).

Anzaldúa definitely brought a different perspective to American feminist writing, which was (and still is) primarily driven by a very monochromatic subset of our society, and I think it’s really good to continue to acknowledge that even in feminism, minorities are under-represented and overlooked, and then work to change that.

Girldrive – which I highly recommend reading, highlights the importance of looking at feminism from outside academia – also brought my attention to the importance of identities for women, particularly as they navigate the various roles they identify with. (Are you white first? Or a woman first? Or a feminist first? Eventually, you have to accept that you’re a mass of all things all at once, even if people see and identify you as one thing or another immediately.)

Anzaldúa’s contribution was a giant one and as much as I hated Borderlands then (I have since come to respect both the author and her works, and sincerely appreciate being exposed to them earlier than most), I think it needs to remain an important part of our educational curriculum far into the future.

What sparked this? This article in Bitch.

BiblioBitch: 25th Anniversary of Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera

Books post by Devyn Manibo, Submitted by Devyn Manibo on July 11, 2012 – 1:14pm; tagged 25th anniversary,BiblioBitchbooksBorderlandsfeministGloria AnzaldúaLa Frontera.

If you read Bitch, you are likely at least somewhat familiar with Gloria Anzaldúa and her work with feminism, her beautiful writings, and her advocacy for women of color. She was a Chicana-Tejana-lesbian-feminist poet, theorist, and fiction writer, born September 26, 1942, in Raymondville, Texas. She passed away on May 15th, 2004, but still remains one of the most widely read, respected, and loved queer woman writers of color in history.

As someone who identifies as queer and mixed race, her work was bound to play a pivotal role in the way I construct and understand my identity, the way I live my life, and how I interact with others. I picked up a used copy ofBorderlands/La Frontera (the first edition) when I was 18 years old. Her semi-autobiographical collection of memoir and poetry was older than me, and I had no idea of the gravity of the impact it would have, but I began reading it, slowly–swallowing her words, and digesting them into my being. It was a lot to take in. Quickly, she helped me realize that the comfort I thought I found in labels was simply an assimilationist value I had adopted, not for myself, but for the comfort of others. I never knew how to answer the question, “so, what are you?” It was what I had been grappling with for my entire life; I was living between worlds–the borderlands. I am not either or, but rather, on the edges of all, in an unstable, and ever-changing terrain, “nepantla”–a Nahuatl word for the in-between spaces, where the boundaries are unclear, and we are constantly in transition. I can use ambiguity as resistance, and realize that I will not, and never will, fit so neatly into the boxes left out for me, for that would be the death of the borderlands, and the death of the identities I hold.

It is the chapter “Movimientos de rebeldia y las culturas que traicionan,” which roughly translates to “movements of rebellion and the cultures they betray,” that I carry closest to my heart. I have read those 10 pages more times than I can count. In this chapter, Anzaldúa notes “homophobia,” and not in the way you might think. She means the fear of going home, the fear of abandonment, by the mother, the culture, for being “unacceptable, faulty, damaged.” And to avoid rejection, we conform to values of “the culture,” while pushing what we are taught to understand as unacceptable into the periphery of our vision–the shadows. We’ve internalized our oppressions, thus, creating what Anzaldúa aptly named the Shadow-Beast. We fear that the beast will break free, and that our truths will show. Though, it is possible to come to terms with the Shadow-Beast, to see her as kind, and tender, as a being that wants to be released not in the name of destruction but to uncover the lies we’ve let inhabit our bodies, in order to come into our true selves, to resist imposed ideals, and to not be simply tolerated, but loved, and understood. It is a process, and most often, a struggle of pain, and melancholia. I am on a constant search for home, language, and kinship, and I was able to find a basis for all of this in Anzaldúa’s words.

gloria anzaldua with her arm outstretched, leaning on a wooden plank fence

Needless to say, this book has impacted my life in a way that I can barely scrape with a short blog post. I will revisit this text for years to come, it will live with me, it will understand me, and I will continue to discover what it means to live in such a transient space.

Aunt Lute, a nonprofit press focused on bringing the voices of women—particularly queer women and women of color—to publication, is celebrating its 30th year, as well as the 25th anniversary of Anzaldúa’sBorderlands/La Frontera. For the 25th anniversary of the book, Aunt Lute is looking to publish a fourth edition, but they cannot do so without your help. So, please, keep Gloria Anzaldúa’s voice alive, and donate via Kickstarter by July 28th.

On Marriage, Trepidatiously

The man I once thought I was going to marry got married last weekend. By all accounts, it was a beautiful wedding. (This is one of those thank-goodness-for-facebook moments. Some of my friends are still friends with him, so I got to see pictures. Pssh. You wouldn’t be a little curious?)

When we met in 2007, it was instantaneous. The beginning of summer crept over Chicago and I fell in love. When I saw him before I moved back to Chicago, the feelings came flooding back.

When I moved back to Chicago, I was naive enough to think that it’d be easy for us to be together. It wasn’t.

There was a big fight, the fallout, and then the gradual rebuilding of what would be one of the greatest loves of my life.

I was patient (not a state of mind I’m entirely used to). I played it cool (again, not something I’m familiar with). I was awesome (of course).

Our tentative embrace of the potential relationship resumed. I knew it was officially unofficial when, after a party at their new place, I fell asleep in his bed. Just as I was drifting off, I overheard someone asking about me, and clear as day, I heard his response, “Katie? She’s my main squeeze.” I fell asleep smiling.

The next summer, he drove with me out to Colorado. I remember driving into Rocky Mountain National Park with him, thinking that I wished I could bottle the happiness that I felt. It was the swell that you fill in your core when you’re so full of beautiful emotions. It was everything I knew would never last.

Rocky Mountain National Park

(ahh! and there’s Simon on the right. That’s one love that will never die.)

As the summer faded to a close, things began to crack. There was the gradual frustration that I felt with everything. There was the future. We began to talk about the future, and I stopped seeing us and started seeing my parents (hint: not a good thing). We fought. We broke up. The anguish was drawn-out, peppered with those moments of hope that all would be salvaged. It ended badly.

I am thrilled for them as they begin their lives together as husband and wife. But I am so relieved. I don’t even feel bad saying that: I am so relieved. About a lot, but mostly the fact that I am not married.

I want to be married someday very badly, but I am very much willing to wait until it’s a thousand percent right. (Even if that means I end up 45, single, and find myself “accidentally” adopting cats from shelters and taking them home to keep me company while I drink Malbec and wait for my pineapple curry to be delivered from the Thai place.)

But damn, this world can be a very lonely place. Even when you’re not alone. But even so, the thought of getting married as a means of ensuring companionship is terrifying.

In the very immortal words of Outkast, “Forever never seems that long until you’re grown.”

On Simon, on the occasion of 80,000

I drove the long way home yesterday, and to my immense satisfaction, pulled up to my apartment building just as he had hit 80,000 miles.

(I have no idea why it looks like it’s raining in my car.)

At six years old, he’s all grown up. I’ve had him for nearly 50,000 wonderful miles. We go everywhere together, and I imagine that I will keep him until he dies, or until I have kids, or something else gets in my way.

And of course, on this most excellent occasion, Simon found himself in the shop, having an oil change and some transmission issues. A few months ago (six months? nine? I think it was summer but who knows), I was driving down Colorado Blvd when my car freaked out. Now, I’m not one who has any experience in dealing with car problems, so my car jerking and shuddering and jumping all over the place while the D light was blinking was positively terrifying.

I called the Honda dealership. Of course, I should have anticipated their response: “That normally doesn’t happen in a Civic. We normally see that in Odysseys and Pilots.” Alas, they informed that it was a pressure switch in my transmission and that I need to bring my car in. “Can I drive on it for a bit?” I asked. They told me that I could, but I’d probably get terrible gas mileage.

Here we are so many months later. The D light stopped blinking and the never did the shuddering jumping jerking business again, so I never brought it in. But it’s been worrying the back of my brain, as transmission issues do. The gas mileage has remained pretty steady, so no complaints here.

I took the car into my mechanic, who’s basically the best mechanic ever. He calls me to tell me that he doesn’t really feel any loss of power when he drives. I cut in about the D light. “The D light was blinking!? No one told me about that! I’ll call you back!” The phone went dead. He called me back about a half an hour later to tell me that yes, it is a transmission pressure switch error code but it’s also another error code.

But then he tells me not to worry, because it’s not bad enough to deal with. (I love this guy. He’ll let you know what’s urgent and what’s not.) I still need to be super vigilant about my transmission, because at the first sign of trouble, I’m going to need to replace something about the solenoids and the pressure switch, or worse, the whole damn thing.

I’ve got his blessing to keep driving on it and he’s going to give me the name of his transmission people. So, Simon and I shall keep adventuring until it’s time to do some serious surgery. At that point, if it’s the $400 repair, I won’t hesitate, but if it’s the entire transmission, we’ll have to do some serious thinking about whether or not it’s worth it. But for now, I’m still just as excited about him as I was the day that I got him.

I bought Simon when I was 20. It was February 4, 2008 (yeah, I guess that’s weird, but it’s a date I’ll never forget). When I turned the car on for the first time, the odometer read 33,111. I knew right then that I had to have him. (That, and the fact that I spent as much time as I could in my Grandma Mary’s car when I was a kid because she had a digital speedometer. I thought her car was the best ever. And yet, somehow, I’d managed to get a digital speedometer of my own! Luckiest girl ever, I swear.)

Simon at night, with bubbles. Illinois. 2009?

Simon, at dusk. Illinois, Halloween, 2010.

(side note: Old Dave may have been right about the sex appeal [or lack thereof] of Birkenstocks.)

In the four years that I’ve had him, he’s been crushed, crunched, cracked, and spray painted. He’s hit bugs, curbs, rocks, potholes. He’s driven and driven and driven. And I have loved every single minute of it.

Simon in Wisconsin, barely. Winter/Spring 2010.

Simon reflecting in Rocky Mountain National Park, June 2009.

Oh and the best part?

80,000 miles divided by 6 years is 13,333.33 miles per year, on average. It’s just one of those things that was meant to be.

On my little brother, who will always be fruitypants to me

Mike's tent

When I got home from my quick weekend in Chicago, I was a bit surprised to see an orange tent set up in our living room. Mike was so excited to tell me all about it: how lightweight it is (3 pounds!), how it’s great for backpacking, how it’s got a rain fly and he’s excited to make oatmeal under it in the mornings if it’s raining. Lots of conversation about the possibilities of rain with this tent – apparently the rain fly can be put up before you build the body of the tent so that in case of inclement weather you don’t risk getting your tent soaked while you mess with the poles and rain fly. I think that’s marvelous.

We had to take the tent down because someone with sharp claws was just as excited as Mike about the new tent. Carlos kept sneaking around the tent, trying to get in through the flap. I’d see a swish of black tail as he got in, only to run out moments later when Mike caught him. Then I’d see the little black face sniffing around the bottom of the tent. Not wanting to have to buy a new tent due to slash-holes caused by my cat son and his nasty habit of relentless investigation, the tent was packed away. However, I did enjoy sitting inside a tent inside my living room. It brought back childhood memories of Mike and I camping in the backyard.

(This is one of my favorite pictures of us ever.)

I so love the fact that I came home to a tent. I so love that my roommate is my brother. I love that we are nearly exact opposites. Mike’s idea of fun is a week spent fishing and hiking and backpacking. That’s my idea of perfect hell. My idea of fun is dancing, or the library, or four hours in a bathtub with books, or drinking wine. I do believe that those may constitute Mike’s perfect hell.

However, give that kid some sports, and you’re all set. I really like going to games with Mike. I always learn something and I always have fun. Above, my first Cubs game ever after I graduated from college.

He’s the athletic one. I mean, he’s 6’4″ and I’m barely 5’8″. He does the heavy lifting; he opens jars; he reaches things on the top shelf. He’s the one that’s good at math (damn good). He does the detail work. He’s focused, calm, patient, way too laid-back for his own good, kindhearted, organized, neat. He’s analytical and observant. He loves his outdoor activities, but my idea of outdoor activities involves drinking in a park. He cooks, too. He’s going to be a great dad and make some lady who can’t cook very happy one day.

I’m the impulsive, energetic one. I’m loud and quite outspoken. I’m the one who thinks about the big picture, who takes care of administrative detail like paying the bills, and who is wound up 99.99% of the time. I am in no way patient or detail oriented, and I’ll never be accused of being organized or neat. And I can’t cook to save my life. (Baby steps, I keep telling myself. Noodles and sauce from a jar is totally food.)

Even though we’re not biological siblings, we’re a matched set. We make a really good team. We balance each other out. I’m impressed by his dedication to his schoolwork, fascinated by his love of strange things like his panini maker, and excited about our mutual enjoyment of tea. He knows how to calm me down when I’m stressed; he’s wise beyond his years.

We get each other. We used to climb the apple tree in the backyard together. We used to throw tennis balls at the house. When we were little, we thought it’d be the best idea ever to take out the hall closet that separated our rooms and create one giant room that was full of everything fun. Or if we couldn’t have one giant room, we wanted a secret tunnel.

During nap time (which sucks when you’re 7 years old), we’d grab Mom’s exercise mat and use it to sled down the stairs. In the summer, we’d have cannonball contests – which I never won. We dug mud holes in the garden, took our bikes and scooters all over the neighborhood, stayed out late and played hide and seek….

When I went off to college, I had a rough time the first night. I’ve never been that good at hiding my emotions, and I’m prone to bouts of hysterical crying. And so, I cried. I cried, and I cried, and I cried. (It was pretty bad.) My mom and brother and uncle and cousin left me all alone in Chicago (which would turn out to be one of the best adventures of my life, so in hindsight, no complaints). No one would have ever known about this if my uncle hadn’t told us – I’m glad he did – but apparently, Mike cried through Illinois on the way back to Denver.

My brother is one of the most amazing people I know. I’m so lucky that he’s mine. (Don’t tell him that – I don’t want it to go to his head.) I am so grateful.



On my Hair. A photo essay, sort of.

My hair has been a constant source of dismay for me.

I believe it started somewhere around birth. I was quite bald. Even as a toddler, people would say, “My, what a cute boy you have!” (Sort of like the Red Riding Hood – Big Bad Wolf exchange: “My, what big teeth you have.” “All the better to eat you with, my dear.” Except not exactly like that.) And finally, after a few years of this gender confusion, I grew hair, cementing my place as a female member of society.
Did my parents ever worry about alopecia? Maybe not, as I’m sure they don’t subscribe to my worst-case-scenario-projecting-is-the-only-way-to-look-at-life philosophy. (For the record, I don’t worry about alopecia. Not yet, at least. And by the time I start to worry, there will be science-miracle cures that I can buy on TV for easy payments of $19.99. Done! Alopecia problem solved! Thanks future hair plugs/miracle creams/sweet interchangeable wigs.)
(trade this dress for a tux, and you’ve got an adorable future George Clooney)
After hair comes bangs.
My mom knew I was going to cut my hair soon. I’d been cutting grass, the dog’s hair, paper. So one day, I came flouncing down the stairs with crooked bangs. They were completely diagonal. I’d cut them with safety scissors and then left the hair behind a chair upstairs, as though no one would ever find it. There was no fixing it, so they just had to grow out.
Any mother’s worst fear is the years and years it’s going to take to grow our a small child’s bangs. It took years. It was a source of stress. When I was in first grade, my mom told me that I wasn’t allowed to have bangs again until I was 18.
So I didn’t.When I was little, my mom would try to put my hair in a ponytail. I was never happy. There were always bump when she’d try to pull it up. I’d reach back and feel it and tell her that there was a bump and so I’d make her redo it. To this day, I still redo my hair when I’m worried that there’s a bump. She’d get exasperated. “There’s no bump!” (Just to be 100% clear, there were bumps. I am not wrong.)
A few months ago, she was walking past a mother doing her daughter’s hair. She said that she was tempted to walk up to the daughter and whisper, “There’s a bump!”

I went through my ugly duckling phase (era, actually – it was like a decade from awkward hell) with no discernible hair style. I really didn’t do anything to it – I don’t even think I had approached a hair dryer at this point. It just lived in a ponytail at the base of my neck. Every day. All day.

There was one day where we tried curlers. Like a 50s housewife, I slept in rollers. When I woke up and took them out (Mom was at work, so Dad may have had a hand in the meltdown that happened immediately after I realized I looked like young Frankenstein), I freaked.
(me, at age 8)
One of my worst memories of 6th grade is the day that I forgot to wash the conditioner out of my hair. All day, I was greasy and gross and miserable. I now triple rinse, without fail. In South Africa, long after the water had gone cold, I’d be under the shower head, rinsing. Triple checking that no traces of conditioner remained.
It gets worse.
Remember high school? (This is still part of the era of awkward.)
The only rule was that I couldn’t dye my hair black. So of course, I dyed it black the first chance I got. Mom has a sixth sense about these things (either that or I’m a terrible liar), and I hadn’t even finished drying it post-coloring when she was on the phone. “What color is your hair?!” she said, in her terrifying phone/teacher voice. (I should add that my mom isn’t really that scary – and I’m grateful that she let me do so much experimentation during those years. I may not have looked great, but I was figuring myself out. I respect her willingness to let me try that, just like when she would let me wear her high heels and my play dresses to church when I was little.)
   (Those were interesting years. I cut my bangs myself. They were always horrifying. Short, uneven. Not really bangs. Not really side bangs. For evidence of this bad bang cutting, see my sophomore year school picture – it’s still on display at Mom’s house. Compounded with my ever-changing hair color, I was not my best self. It’s a good thing that there are still people on this planet (my friends) who value inner beauty.
College. I chopped off all of my hair. I looked like a goon. (That’s not entirely true. It was actually sort of cute.) I spent the next three years in various stages of hair length, usually around my chin. Sometimes adorable, sometimes not at all.
Cut to Africa. Mama P wanted me to have fringe. So I sat on one of her kitchen chairs and her daughter took shears to my hair. Full fringe. I kept that until this spring, when I grew them back out.
So of course, December rolls around and what do I want to do again? (I haven’t gotten any tattoos or piercings in years, so I get the urge to do something drastic every six months or so.) Bangs. My super ego was telling me no, but my stubborn self was saying yes.
But I was waffling. I didn’t know. I looked back through pictures, realized I couldn’t find a single one with bangs that I liked, and then thought, let’s do it again! (That is nothing if not sound logic right there.)
(That’s a lie – I like this picture. Long Street, 2010.)
So I’m back to half-bangs. But I swear, I am growing all of it out and just having hair that’s one length. 2012 is the year of less hair cut, more learning how to style the hair I have. Curling irons? I can master them. Learning to love my curly hair? I can learn that too. I have taken baby steps – I own good hair products. I am open to re-embracing hair spray.
(Imagine if I wasn’t doing the mickey ave – I’d look adorable.)
Moral of this story? Stop messing with your hair. Learn how to style it. Stay away from the scissors. Curling irons are your friend. Your natural hair color is that way for a reason. Listen to your mother, at least when she tells you to stop trying to rock bangs. She might be right.
Other moral? Pick friends who will still love you when you look ridiculous. Or just make sure you pick ridiculous friends.

From Mom

I have kept a sticky note from mom for years (and by years, I mean, since maybe freshman year of college).
It came rubber-banded to a pack of Bicycle playing cards and reads:

Maybe these will come in handy on those Friday and Saturday nights when you don’t want to go out and lose something. 
Thanks, Mom.