Latino Heritage Month Meets Reproductive Justice & Sexual Health: Focus on Gloria Anzaldúa

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Latino Heritage Month Meets Reproductive Justice & Sexual Health: Focus on Gloria Anzaldúa

Bianca I. Laureano

In celebration of Latino Heritage Month, this is the first in a series about people whose work centers on sexuality, ethnicity, racial classification, and social justice.

The first week of Latino Heritage Month has passed and there are three more to go. As someone who does not often “celebrate” this month in “traditional” ways expected for educators and some activists, I’d like to try to expand our understanding and conversations about Latino sexuality during this month.

As a result my goal is to discuss the work of a few people whose research in the field of sexuality, reproductive justice, and sexual science intersects with Latino studies in the US and internationally. I’d like to see this as a series highlighting a few folks each week whose existence and work has made it possible for my peers and me to continue to do the work that we are doing. In addition, I hope that the conversations that often happen during this month: “Latino vs. Hispanic,” “Representations of Latinos in Media,” and “Latinos and Higher Education” can shift to focus on and include reproductive justice and topics of sexuality that are not often on the high list of conversations to have during this month.

If you are seeking other outlets and sources of information to help you expand your efforts and recognition of Latino heritage Month, I’d like to suggest some sites. Each of these offer resources and opportunities for people to contribute, expand their knowledge, and read other’s opinions/testimonies about their Latinidad. My good friend Maegan La Mamita Mala Ortiz began the 30 Days of Latino Heritage Tumblr page encouraging people to contribute to sharing what they consider to be necessary to celebrate during this time. I, along with several other activists, were inspired by Maegan’s work and we began the [email protected]’s Tumblr page where we expand ideas of Blackness and include a conversation and affirmation of Blackness and African identity among Latinos. You may also submit to the [email protected]’s Tumblr page as well.

I want to start with a few folks who many may already be familiar with and I hope that in being reminded of them, discussions can further in new ways.
Gloria Anzaldúa, PhD
Scholar, Poet, Writer, Activist

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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It seems fitting to me, someone who adores theory, but does more “practical” work, to begin with Gloria Anzaldúa. It was at the time of her death over 5 years ago that I began to write online and blog about sexuality and our community. I had read This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, and had just finished readings parts of This Bride We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation for part of a doctoral program I was in when I heard of her death. It was May 18, 2004, four days after her death, when I wrote my first online post for the world to see. And they did see. I shared how her death had affected me.

but anzaldua means more to me, i am a chicana feminist, a puerto rican, a woman of color, a border crosser. her writings, and i’m not just talking her creative pieces, but i’m talking her theory; have been irreplaceable in my ethnic/racial/sexual/social identity. when i think of how i see myself as not just puerto rican, but as latino, as chicana, as part of la raza, anzaldua’s work it what helped me achieve that acceptance of community difference, need, change and mobility is paramount….i waited too long and missed out on making my physical connection. i’ve learned from and decided that i am going to make contact with those i believe to be influential, important, essential, and fierce leaders in my community, in our community now, instead of later. i encourage us all to do the same, don’t wait for somebody to come at you, go to them. viva la lucha de luz, paz y amor viva la memoria de los revolucionarios viva puerto rico libre

Paramount to my consciousness as someone, who at that time identified as a feminist, and today who does not but as a radical woman of Color, I often felt lost in US feminisms. There was something that just kept telling me I wasn’t welcome (and this remains true today, and I know what it is). I found myself wondering, “why are all the Latina feminist thought we are exposed to focusing on Chicana identity?” I felt I had to choose to be a Latina Feminist and that was odd to me because I felt more Caribbean than I did Latina. After all I was raised in a Caribbean home, not a Latino one. It was not until I read Borderlands/La Frontera that I realized there was a place for me in Anzaldúa work. Anzaldúa writes:

The first time I heard two women, a Puerto Rican and a Cuban, say the word “nostoras,” I was shocked. I had not known the word existed. Chicanas used nosotros whether we’re male or plural. Language is a male discourse.

To this day, when I read that passage, the note I wrote in the margin “Caribe Women” means more to me than any paper I wrote, any book I read, and any lecture any of my Women’s Studies professors gave. Anzaldúa called out negative aspects of “machismo,” while realizing that it does not always translate in the same way for all of us as I’ve shared before. This was so important, because it allowed me the opportunity to still love my father without feeling guilty or wrong because he loved me. His love for me did not mirror what I was reading in the literature and supposed to realize was oppressive. 

Anzaldúa was one of the first out Lesbian Chicana writers in the US. Her contributions to examining the intersections of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, location, ethnicity, and language have changed the way we think and speak about feminisms in the US, especially [email protected] feminisms, and oppressions in general. Her work on spiritual activism is one that I find imperative to the work many of us want, choose, and continue to do in the field of reproductive justice and sexual health. The language and terms she’s given us allow our conversations and goals to expand and cross borders, just as our bodies have. Take for example her term “nepantleras” which she has described in the Preface of This Bride We Call Home as:

“Whenver I glimpse the arch of this bridge my breath catches. Bridges are thresholds to other realities, archetypal, primal symbols of shifting consciousness. They are passageways, conduits, and connectors that connote transitioning, crossing borders, and changing perspectives. Bridges span liminal (threshold) spaces between worlds, spaces I call nepantla*, a Nahutl word meaning tierra entre medio. Transformations occur in this in-between space, an unstable, unpredictable, precarious, always-in-transition space lacking clear boundaries. Nepantla es tierra desconocida, and living in this liminal zone means being in a constant state of displacement—an uncomfortable, even alarming feeling. Most of us dwell in nepantla so much of the time it’s become a sort of “home.” Though this state links us to other ideas, people, and worlds, we feel threatened by these new connections and the change they engender. I think of how feminist ideas and movements are attacked, called unnatural by the ruling powers, when in fact they are ideas whose time has come, ideas as relentless as the waves carving and later eroding stone arches. Change is inevitable; no bridge lasts forever.

*I use the word nepantla to theorize liminality and to talk about those who facilitate passages between worlds, whom I’ve named nepantleras. I associate nepantla with states of mind that question old ideas and beliefs, acquire new perspectives, change worldviews, and shift from one world to another.”

How does our work shift or gain new meaning when we realize, as Anzaldúa says, todas somos nos/otras (we are all one/another (it always sounds and reads better in Spanish). Before she died she was working towards a doctorate degree in Literature and a year after her death she was awarded it posthumously by the University of California at Santa Cruz. Anzaldúa work demonstrates the power and importance of the public intellectual and independent scholar.

In what ways do you see Anzaldúa having left us with a legacy? How do you see incorporating her ideologies into the work you are doing? What are the many ways we can incorporate her work into our curriculums with youth?

foto credit: UC Santa Cruz