The first interracial, truly multicultural understanding of feminism I experienced came from Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherrie Moraga’s edited anthology, This Bridge Called My Back. As I wrote a month ago for Warscapes, that was back in high school, when I first became acutely aware of living between very different worlds:
I first read Anzaldúa as one of a handful of young women of color at Emma Willard, an elite boarding school in Troy, New York. I pretended to borrow This Bridge Called My Back, only the second anthology of feminist writing (other than The Black Woman, edited by Toni Cade Bambara). I was actually a veteran book thief by then, so the truth is that I stole it from the library, and it completely changed my world view.
Books that oriented me in a non-white, non-privileged experience were my anchors as I negotiated home insecurity, the scars of homelessness from the past, and attempted to reconcile the bare beauty of amassing privilege on Emma Willard’s campus. I did not know it was nepantla, the Nahuatl word for “that uncertain terrain one crosses when moving from one place to another.” I knew I was grateful for three meals a day, finally, and the long stretches of uninterrupted quiet time to read and study as leaves fell with their autumn splendor on perfect green grass.
I was relieved to read The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader which I just happened to have in my house while I was contemplating what it meant to be writing for myself in the city where she went to school, was assaulted and later had to move. She was a writer, a bridge, a feminist from modest circumstances who was committed to living life on her terms. What inspires me about her life and her work was that she was unapologetically passionate about her community. The result is a body of work that continues to resonate within and outside of the Chicano community. I think she would have wanted it that way.
“Nobody’s going to save you. No one’s going to cut you down, cut the thorns thick around you. No one’s going to storm the castle walls nor kiss awake your birth, climb down your hair, nor mount you onto the white steed. There is no one who will feed the yearning. Face it. You will have to do, do it yourself.”
“So if we won’t forget past grievances, let us forgive. Carrying the ghosts of past grievances no vale la pena. It is not worth the grief. It keeps us from ourselves and each other; it keeps us from new relationship. We need to cultivate other ways of coping.” (This inspired my piece at The Feminist Wire.)
“Adjectives are a way of constraining and controlling. ‘The more adjectives you have, the tighter the box.’ Marking is always marking down…my labeling of myself is so that the Chicana and lesbian and all the other persons in me don’t get erased, omitted and killed. Naming is how I make my presence known, how I assert who and what I am and want to be known as. Naming myself is a survival tactic.”
“Though we tremble before uncertain futures
may we meet illness, death and adversity with strength
may we dance in the face of our fears.”