“I knew Gloria Anzaldúa very well, I miss her, I miss her presence in the world,” said UC Santa Cruz feminist studies professor Bettina Aptheker, as she took the podium to commence the two-day conference on the work of poet, philosopher and critical scholar Gloria Anzaldúa, who wrote about race, feminism, decolonization and queer theory.
“The Feminist Architecture of Gloria Anzaldúa: New Translations, Crossings and Pedagogies in Anzaldúan Thought,” a conference at UC Santa Cruz, was organized by professors Bettina Aptheker and Karen Tei Yamashita — who both share the UC Presidential Chair in Feminist Race and Ethnic Studies — and the Institute for Humanities Research (IHR) in collaboration with conference Co-chairs Cindy Cruz and Felicity Amaya Schaeffer.
Aptheker said Cruz and Schaeffer made a “wish list” of well-known, representative scholars in Chicano/Latino studies whose work draws from or relates to the “pioneering work” of Anzaldúa.
In one of her poems “Letting Go,” Anzaldúa writes, “It’s not enough / deciding to open. You must plunge your fingers into your navel / with your two hands split open / spill out the lizards and horned toads / the orchids and the sunflowers / turn the maze inside out / shake it.”
“This is what Gloria Anzaldúa did for us,” Aptheker said, “plunged in, split open, shook it all up and we are forever grateful, generation after generation.”
On April 10 and 11, about 100 students, faculty, staff and community members attended the conference each day to honor Anzaldúa, who taught at UCSC for over 20 years and whose legacy is a part of the 50th anniversary celebration on campus.
“People aren’t just reflecting on Anzaldúa — what they’re doing is taking Anzaldúa’s work and moving it further in some way, of thinking about issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity, ethics, politics and immigration,” Aptheker said.
There was a keynote by associate professor of comparative literature and philosophy at Binghamton University María Lugones, who in Cruz’s words is one of the decolonial thinkers who moves Anzaldúa forward. Associate professor of ethnic studies at UC Berkeley Laura Pérez also delivered a keynote.
“It is crucial that in this 50th year anniversary of this campus, that women of color who have been such a crucial part of the energy of the ‘60s and ‘70s, who gave rise to this campus and its very unique energy in the UC system and in the whole country, it’s a great act of solidarity and respect to honor Gloria Anzaldúa, but also other women of color –– alongside her, and she through them,” Pérez said as she began her keynote.
The two-day conference consisted of panels led by scholars across the nation contextualizing and exploring the ways Anzaldúa’s work can be moved forward across disciplines. The first panel on April 10 included professors and scholars from across the UC, including Co-chair Schaeffer.
In a separate room, McHenry Library Special Collections displayed the Anzaldúa Writing Altar that consisted of artifacts that helped her writing process.
On the following day, the second panel “La Facultad: Bridging Theory to Praxis in Anzaldúan Thought” touched upon redefining Latino masculinities, everyday social movements and bridging spiritual activism with social justice. The conference wrapped up with the round table “Santa Cruz Feminists of Color Collective,” which discussed women of color throughout history who worked toward a more progressive space for women of color today.
Assistant professor in gender and women’s studies Pedro Dipietro, who traveled from Syracuse University in New York to speak on the first panel, said he felt humbled and honored to have been invited.
“The UC presidential chair has certainly taken the conversation about the work of Gloria Anzaldúa to a new level by assembling scholars, activists and artists doing deep and politically committed disciplinary and interdisciplinary radical work,” Dipietro said.
Conference Co-chair and UCSC assistant professor in education Cindy Cruz said the conference worked well and was eager to see the conversations that were inspired by the panelists.
“One of the ideas that [conference Co-chair] Felicity and I talked about was to move from Anzaldúa 1.0 to Anzaldúa 2.0, to move her away from the celebratoriness to more of a, now what are the critiques, what is she offering theoretically?” Cruz said. “How do we move her forward?”
Cruz is ultimately thinking about the ways scholars can go beyond Anzaldúa physically and praxically and whether the conference will lead to similar gatherings or meetings.
“I love that we didn’t talk about just method or theoretical concepts but it was also about pedagogy, about how this works everyday in the classroom but also how we as intellectuals, writers and scholars are taking her work and using it in this decolonial way that is about self-care,” Cruz said.
Gloria Anzaldúa’s works include “Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza,” “Making Face: Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives” and “The Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color,” which she co-edited with Chicana writer and feminist activist Cherríe Moraga.
Anzaldúa developed the idea of what she called “mestiza consciousness” — mestiza is both a literal term meaning mixed race but can also be used as a metaphor for a mixed consciousness. Anzaldúa considered herself an individual of multiple identities — a spiritual being, lesbian, Chicana, feminist and activist — all of which were channeled in her writings.
“A part of our idea [was] appreciating how brilliant she was, how much the metaphors of crossing cultures when you come to the university [are],” professor Aptheker said. “It is useful to think about it that way and say you’re an outsider and also an insider, you occupy both positions, all the time, shifting around.”