Alchemy is a continuing theme in Borderlands. Here Anzaldúa refers to the ultimate alchemical goal of transformation, which is achieved through the opus or "great work." Although there are many different approaches to understanding and practicing alchemy, one of the most typical descriptions divides the alchemical work into four stages:
Nigredo or putrefaction is the stage of blackening: corruption and dissolution
Albedo or whitening is the stage of purification: burning away impurities (associated with the Moon and the female principle)
Citrinitas or yellowing is the stage of spiritualisation: reaching enlightenment (associated with the Sun and the male principle)
Rubedo or reddening is the stage of unification: the union of opposites (male and female, material and immaterial, human and divine)
The movement from black to red has obvious echoes with the Aztec symbolism of "red and black ink." This image from an early alchemical manuscript shows the work progressing as a key symbol--the dragon--appears in the alchemist's vessel.
In a note to this section, Anzaldúa relates her comments to the work of Nobel Prize-winning chemist Ilya Prigogine. At the time Borderlands was being written, the serious study of chaos and complexity was just beginning, but today it is an important field of research--visit the website of the Santa Fe Institute for more information.
This video of Prigogine discussing complexity resonates remarkably with Anzaldúa's ideas about cultural emergence. And the graphic below from the U.S. National Science Foundation--which illustrates the multileveled complexity of organisms in their environments--illuminates the integration of human culture with the natural world.
Traditionally, the making of tortillas was not just food preparation--it was a ritual that connected the life cycle of the corn crop with the life cycle of the community. See a video of the process as it is still practiced today in rural Mexico.
The Nahuatl word "nahual" is used and interpreted in different ways--sometimes in the sense of a guardian spirit, sometimes referring to an evil or demonic figure, and sometimes to a shaman or magician. Anzaldúa regards the nahual as a symbol of shapeshifting, moving between worlds. The motif of shapeshifting is found across many cultures and appears in many different configurations, as outlined in the excellent Wikipedia article. In Mesoamerican traditions, the shapeshifter was often one who could tranform into animal form, as depicted on this Mexican vase.
Anzaldua's vision of Chicano energy infused into North American culture has been taking form in recent decades. For some examples visit the striking ChicanoArts website, see contemporary paintings in the Smithsonian exhibition Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge, and take a virtual tour of Chicano Park in San Diego, California. This sculpture in the park captures the traditional Day of the Dead motif in a modern form. (Notice the "Aztec mosaic" pattern on the base.)
This quotation comes from Chapter 24 (Fu/Return--The Turning Point) of the I Ching, or Book of Changes--an ancient Chinese text that combines divination and philosophy. "Chapter 24" is also known to many music fans as a track from the 1967 Pink Floyd album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The song opens with the lines quoted by Anzaldúa.
Read all 64 of the I Ching messages on the Deoxyribonucleic Hyperdimension website. The messages are based on a system of trigrams (made up of short and long lines) that is often depicted in the form of the Pakua, centered by the Taoist "yin yang" symbol depicting the unity of opposites.
Part 2 of Borderlands/La Frontera is named after Ehecatl, the god of winds in pre-Columbian Mexican mythology. Ehecatl was often represented as an aspect of Quetzalcoatl, the "Feathered Serpent." This image (from the pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican manuscript called the Codex Borgia) shows Quetzalcoatl as Ehecatl.
Part 2 is made up of thirty-eight poems, divided into six sections. Ten poems are in Spanish without translation, two are presented both in Spanish and in Anzaldúa's own translation. In the English poems, key Spanish words and phrases are translated in notes. Each section has one or more unifying themes that echo through the poems, and many of the poems share imagery with the essays in Part 1.
Gloria Anzaldúa specifically wanted readers to experience her writing directly, not through translations, explanations, or interpretations. The Bookmarks for Part 1 offered amplifications and examples for the many references in those chapters--which is appropriate for the conceptual part of the book. But it would not be appropriate to provide glosses for the poetry. Each poem is meant to create its own world, in a private conversation with each reader . . .