Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Doing the Work That Matters"-- The Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa by Amelia M.L. Montes

Imagine being at a conference. It is crowded but you don’t have a conference guide. You decide to go where the crowds are gathering to hear a panel presentation on the latest topic, or to hear someone speak. People are sitting on the floor, crammed against the walls, standing outside waiting to see if they can get in or to see if they can at least hear from a distance. There’s a buzz, an excitement about what is being discussed. You know that the discussion is of importance and will have an impact. I’m describing what has occurred at conferences when the topic of Gloria Anzaldúa’s work is discussed.

Conference crowd!

Professor Norma Cantú found herself more than once in such crowds. At the American Studies Association (ASA) Conference in 2005, (a year after Anzaldúa died) a session on Gloria Anzaldúa was standing room only “although people were also sitting on the floor too,” she says. At the Modern Language Association (MLA) Conference in 2006 and at other conferences the same occurred. Cantú found herself in packed rooms with people from various parts of the United States, Latin America, Europe—all wanting to hear and discuss Anzaldúa’s work. “These sessions were unbelievably crowded and that’s when I knew,” she said. “I knew that there needed to be a space for these people to continue their discussions.”

And what exactly were these discussions about? --Gloria Anzaldúa and her book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987). This experimental book (called "experimental" at its inception due to the use of various writing genres within one text: theoretical, historical, creative inclusive of poetry and memoir) continues to be at the center of these discussions. Borderlands has been translated in over 30 languages and this June 2012, the fourth edition will be published celebrating twenty-five years of this book's existence. Aunt Lute Press is celebrating by posting "weekly quotes about the enduring importance and beauty of this groundbreaking work."

Professor Norma Cantú, longtime friend to Anzaldúa and scholar of her work, writes that "her ideas . . . reach out across cultures, across nations, across many borders. As Czech scholar Tereza Kynclová notes, Anzaldúa speaks to the borders we all inhabit . . . the lens of border theory, a theory that asks that we situate ourselves on both sides of a bridge at once. A bridge signals that there is a border to traverse, yet it is also meant to unite, not divide.” Scholars, creative writers, artists, healers, musicians, dancers who invoke Anzaldúa's words speak of resistance to injustice: injustice against women, queers, all marginalized individuals. And in that resistant voice, they also look inward. "The struggle is inner: Chicano, indio, American Indian, mojado, mexicano, immigrant Latino, Anglo in power, working class Anglo, Black, Asian--our psyches resemble the bordertowns and are populated by the same people. The struggle has always been inner, and is played out in the outer terrains. Awareness of our situation must come before inner changes, which in turn come before changes in society. Nothing happens in the 'real' world unless it first happens in the images in our heads . . . I am possessed by a vision: that we Chicanas and Chicanos have taken back or uncovered our true faces, our dignity and self respect. It is a validation vision." (Anzaldúa, "La conciencia de la mestiza/Towards a New Consciousness").

Gloria Anzaldúa near her home in Santa Cruz, California

National organizations such as the MLA offer various “one author societies” for national and international scholars/writers to gather and share their work on a certain author. There’s the Virginia Woolf Society, the Cervantes and Melville Societies, the Ernest Hemingway and Robert Frost Societies, etc. For Chicana and Chicano scholars and/or creative writers—a look at the long list of societies reveals that we are not well represented. Enter Dr. Cantú who saw the crowds for Gloria Anzaldúa but knew that if there was to be an Anzaldúa Society, it had to be somewhat different from the Frost, Woolf, and Hemingway-type societies. It had to be a space not only for literature scholars. Anzaldúa’s work also attracts fiction and non-fiction writers, poets, artists, healers, musicians, linguists, geographers, eco-critical scholars—the list is long!

At The Society for the Study of American Women Writers (SSAWW) in 2006, I remember being with Dr. Cantú on an Anzaldúa panel and from there I joined her to begin the SSGA (along with other founding members Norma Alarcón, Sonia Saldívar-Hull, Rusty Barceló, Antonia Castañeda, Claire Joysmith, and AnaLouise Keating). We began distributing flyers announcing a one-day symposium which Cantú named “Gueras y Prietas” to mirror a similar conference on Anzaldúa (same name) that had taken place in Mexico City the year before. Cantú believed this would make way for a transnational exchange of ideas.

Dr. Norma Cantú introducing a panel at the one-day symposium

The one-day symposium took place in San Antonio and indeed it was transnational and multi-disciplinary. The symposium was a good beginning because we gathered as one group throughout the entire day. As a unit, we launched the Society and from there, 18 months later, our first Anzaldúa conference was born: “El Mundo Zurdo International Conference.” Since then, two others have followed and the next one is this May 2012 in San Antonio.

Dr. Norma Cantú and "Mundo Zurdo" panel participants

The conferences have grown from 200 to 350 registrants from more than 7 different countries and have yielded the anthology El Mundo Zurdo: Selected Works from the Meetings of The Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa, 2007 & 2009.

Authors in this book are writing from various states in the U.S. (California, Chicago, Idaho, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Texas). They also come from Austria, Israel, Chile, Iraq, Spain, Mexico. A new anthology which includes the proceedings from the 2010 conference is also soon to be published.

SIGNS: the Journal of Women in Culture and Society (University of Chicago Press) devoted their August 2011 issue to The Society on the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa focusing the essays on international perspectives from Austria, the Canary Islands, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Spain. “Around the globe,” writes Dr. Cantú, “across diverse spheres of influence, scholars write, teach, and work for social change using the border theory lens that Anzaldúa’s writings offer. In the Mayan areas of Mexico, for example, Papusa Molina employs a pedagogy with her Mayan students based on Anzaldúan thought: a different border, the same issues. ‘Linguistic terrorism,’ as Anzaldúa called it: not allowing the Mayan languages in the schools, dictating what is acceptable to the state.”

Artist Santa Barraza with one of her paintings, and Amelia M.L. Montes

Some of the artists influenced by Anzaldúa’s work are Santa Barraza (pictured above), Deborah Kuetzpalin Vasquez, Liliana Wilson. They are examples of what Cantú describes as “interlocking communities” around Anzaldúa’s work.

Cantú: “It’s been a real experience and has opened up a lot for me—just to have all these scholars and artists coming together. I feel like my role is to be a facilitator—like a midwife or like the ‘matachines’ who, before they dance, someone sweeps the space, prepares it. That’s what I’m doing: preparing el terreno for people to come and do their thing.” Their thing is what Gloria Anzaldúa wrote in her last essay: "The work that matters."

You are more than welcome, Queridas y Queridos Bloga Readers—to join in this year’s Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa “Mundo Zurdo Conference.” This year’s theme is “Transformations.” In the SSGA Newsletter, the “Transformations” theme is described as “a dominant motif in Anzaldúa’s writings . . . [which] suggests multiple processes of consciousness formation, ideology shifting, and physical and spiritual healing.”

Gloria Anzaldúa, la Tejana

I asked Dr. Cantú what she thought Gloria would think about all of this attention on her work. “I think she would be blown away. Joan [Pinkvoss, Senior Editor at Aunt Lute Books who worked with Anzaldúa on Borderlands] never thought that Borderlands would have the impact it did, but she valued Gloria’s work enough that she knew her work would have an impact at some level.”

El Mundo Zurdo Conference (Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa)-- May 17-19 in San Antonio, Texas. Contact: or Dr. Cantú at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Amelia! just a minor correction: Joan was the one who told me that Gloria didn't think Borderlands would have the tremendous impact it has had. Norma