Women’s History Month: Recollections of Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa

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It’s hard for me to realize that I met Gloria Anzaldúa in 1983. I had only come out in 1981 and through my community college teacher I met a Latina lesbian couple who had been members of a feminist-activist collective called Califia. The women of color in the group longed to do activist work with other women of color. After we met, I was invited to attend the planning meetings where we intentionally sought out Bay Area women so that we could meet and share our stories, gifts and talents and yeah there was some hooking up and dating that happened too!

We finally all joined at a campground in Los Angeles.  After the conference, in a crazy immature move, I packed up my car and headed to the Bay area. I slept on a couch, in my car, in an indigent hotel and finally landed a job. With job in place my friend Lea Arellano told me about an apartment available on the Berkeley-Oakland border where she lived. This was a huge house that had been converted to several apartments. Only women lived in this big house.  Little did I know I would be in the midst of powerful women who would continue to influence my life even today.

Whenever Gloria had a bit of time she would invite me over for dinner and conversation or tea or whatever. It was there that I learned that she was from Texas. According to written biographies she was born on the Jesus Maria Ranch in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas on September 26, 1942.  She briefly mentioned that her ancestry was of Basque and Spanish origins as well as native indigenous ancestry mixed in along the way as most of us are. Gloria would talk to me about what it was like to live on the ranch. We would share our stories about working the fields, grape picking and grandparents. She had a soft-spoken Texan accent very different from my Californian accent.

As we shared our stories she told me about a very rare medical condition that she had at birth but I felt shy about asking her to elaborate. Her biography explains that  “Gloria began menstruating at 3 months old, a symptom of an endocrine condition that caused her to stop growing at age 12. Her mother would also ensure that a cloth was placed in Anzaldúa’s underwear as a child in case of bleeding. Anzaldúa remembers, “I’d take [the bloody cloths] out into this shed, wash them out, and hang them really low on a cactus so nobody would see them…My genitals…[were] always a smelly place that dripped blood and had to be hidden.” Anzaldúa eventually underwent a hysterectomy to deal with uterine, cervical, and ovarian abnormalities. Reflecting upon her illness, she announced “I was born a queer.”

I would have to say that Gloria first introduced me to the term queer. I remember her saying that she felt it encompassed a wider range of life and possibilities than the terms gay or lesbian. And then we talked about bisexuality. I was intrigued by our conversation, her honesty and thoughtfulness. I was fascinated when she told me that she loved men and she loved women but that she had chosen to identify as a lesbian due to political and social stances that she felt in the core of her being. This information was new to me. I really had to think about it. That was over 25 years ago!

I write this here today because I haven’t stopped thinking about it. She talked about love. Love beyond the physical romantic love. As I grow and change I still ponder whatever I can remember of our conversations and I am grateful to her mentoring.  This brings me to today. I’m going to write more of my reflections about Gloria as I go through her biography to fill in my own gaps of knowledge. Yes, I met her, I knew her in person. She is not here on the physical plane but she is still with us through her writing and through our recollections. She is still an important figure in our collective queer community. Check out her writings. You will meet her there.

Now, look around you! Go out for coffee or tea with one of the meaningful women in your life this week. Why? Just because.  Ask sincere questions. Relationships are the gold of life.

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About the author

Vivian Varela

Vivian Varela has been involved in social/spiritual work since 1974. She has lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay area as well as Central and South America. She is currently involved in LGBT activism and inclusion with the Episcopal Church. She is a member of St. Paul's in Tustin, California.

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