Gloria Anzaldúa’s life story is summed up in this passage from Borderlands/La Frontera: “I was the first in six generations to leave the Valley, the only one in my family to ever leave home. But I didn’t leave all the parts of me: I kept the ground of my own being.”
Born in 1942, Anzaldúa grew up in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, in an environment she describes as a “rural, peasant, isolated mexicanismo.” For a time her family traveled as part of the migrant work force, but when Gloria was eleven they settled in Hargill, on the Texas-Mexico border, where the children could stay in school. Anzaldúa’s father wanted his children to have an education, and he encouraged his daughter's love of books. But the rest of the family didn’t appreciate her desire to write and paint instead of taking a more traditional female role.
After finishing high school, Anzaldúa was convinced that she had to leave home in order to find her true path. She earned a B.A. at Pan American University in 1969, then went on to the University of Texas at Austin, where she completed an M.A. in English and education in 1974. After teaching in public schools for a few years, she moved to California and became a lecturer in feminist literature at San Francisco State University. By then she was already thinking deeply about the nature of the border experience, and she expanded her ideas to include gender when (as she writes in Borderlands) she “made the choice to be queer.”
In California, Anzaldúa discovered friends and communities that enriched her work. She coedited the groundbreaking anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981), and in the following years her stories and poetry appeared in several collections. She also taught creative writing at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she later became a lecturer in women’s studies. As her literary career blossomed, Anzaldúa often returned to Texas and remained close to her family.
The publication of Borderlands/La Frontera in 1987 made Anzaldúa a recognized creative force in cross-cultural and cross-gender studies, and she collaborated on several projects during the next few years, as well as writing a novel and several children’s books. She was nearing completion of her Ph.D. when she died unexpectedly in 2004, of complications from severe diabetes.