- Borderlands as Bioregion: Jovita González, Gloria Anzaldúa, and the Twentieth-Century Ecological Revolution in the Rio Grande Valley
The concept of “the borderlands” informs a variety of disciplines at the start of the twenty-first century, with many studies focusing on the boundaries where two or more disparate conceptual, social, or political entities overlap productively. Gloria Anzaldúa’s formulation of the borderlands as a dynamic site for identity formation and political resistance, as well as a place of contradictions, remains widely influential, as demonstrated by a number of scholars’ testimonies published with the third edition (2007) of her 1987 classic Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. In a postmodern extension of W. E. B. Du Bois’s “double consciousness,”1 Anzaldúa offers readers her vision of the New Mestiza, who learns to live with the many inconsistencies of the borderlands and to challenge the world with her multifold identity: American, Mexican, mestiza, and Chicana; lesbian, feminist, intellectual, and multilingual. As she phrases this:
To live in the Borderlands means you are neither hispana india negra españolani gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata, half-breed caught in the crossfire between camps while carrying all five races on your back.(216)
She puts her childhood and youth spent in the South Texas US-Mexico borderlands to work to expose colonial exploitation, to counter oppression, and to formulate a new identity that does not submit to traditional expectations.
According to Michael Hames-García, Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera is usually discussed “as a contribution to feminist and antiracist discussions about the construction of the self within multiple contexts of domination and about the self’s resistance to oppression and struggle for recognition” (103). Yet if we approach the borderlands as bioregion, we gain even more from Anzaldúa’s landmark text. This essay takes into account environmental writings of this dynamic region, focusing in particular on the early-twentieth-century writings of Jovita González—a daughter of the same landscape and same cultural heritage as Anzaldúa—in order [End Page 175] to gain some historical insight into this rapidly transforming area. I end by connecting González’s early-twentieth-century writing to Anzaldúa’s late-twentieth-century work in order to trace the latest ecological revolution in the US-Mexico borderlands.
Considering the bioregional, ecological aspects of the US-Mexico borderlands expands our understanding of how colonization, exploitation, and racism impact the land and its people. Scientists, scholars, and politicians agree that we are in the midst of a global environmental crisis in which access to resources will become increasingly limited. In a time of crisis when human societies might cooperate and collaborate to reach a common resolution, the opposite may occur. Increasingly limited access to clean water, healthy food, and livable land may create a hierarchy that reproduces the oppressions that brought this crisis. Indeed, one may argue that such a hierarchy of environmental exploitation and race already exists; environmental injustice will increase when resources become even scarcer. Understanding how hierarchies have operated in the past may help prevent them in the future. Lawrence Buell speculates that “[i]f, as W. E. B. Du Bois famously remarked, the key problem of the twentieth century has been the problem of the color line, it is not at all unlikely that the twenty-first century’s most pressing problem will be the sustainability of earth’s environment” (699). I extend Buell’s observation: the most pressing problem of the twenty-first century may be that racism, homophobia, and sexism continue alongside—and are exacerbated by—the shrinking sustainability of the natural environment. My examination of how Mexican Americans and the Rio Grande Valley experienced racial oppression and exploitation following the US-Mexico War and into the twentieth century supports this claim. While Anzaldúa’s work comments on a more contemporary reading of these dynamics, South Texas writer Jovita González offers historical insight on current injustices and ecological imbalances along the border.
Jovita González’s Folktales as Mexican American Perspective on the Twentieth-Century South Texas Ecological Revolution
González documents the early-twentieth-century ecological revolution of...