Borderlands/La Frontera weaves together argument, analysis, autobiography, inspiration, story, and poetry, creating a rich mixture of forms. Gloria Anzaldúa originally intended the book to be a poetry collection, but after it was accepted for publication she began writing a ten-page introduction—and that prose section grew into the first half the book, which is called “Atravesando Fronteras / Crossing Borders.” It is made up of seven inter-related essays that are punctuated with personal reflections, mythic stories, and short poems.
Although Borderlands does not have a conventional narrative, it does have several layers of "plot." One layer is the story of Anzaldúa’s own life and experience. Another is the evolution of her creative practice and spiritual connections. A third is the exploration of her sexuality. These personal stories are mixed with incisive political and historical analysis, so parts of the book are like sociological studies written in a passionate, poetic style.
These layers are interconnected through the concept of mestizaje, or hybridity, and the exploration of the mestiza consciousness as it crosses the boundaries between races, genders, languages, mind and body. Anzaldúa continually shifts focus to explore the ways that dualities can be resolved by finding or creating the “third element” that is not one thing or the other, but something else. She shows how varieties of Spanish and English have mixed with traditional Indian speech to create the Chicano language, and looks at queerness (hybrid sexuality), community, and art as ways of dissolving the differences that separate people.
Ironically, the prose section of the book became very influential and Anzaldúa is now widely admired for her theories, but little known as a poet. To get the most from reading Borderlands, it’s important to realize that the prose of the first half explains concepts that are explored in the poetry of the second half. And in return, the poetry illuminates the prose. It may take more than one journey through the book to appreciate its many levels of meaning, but each passage will be rewarding in its own way.