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Issue: 8.3: Summer 2010
Guest Edited by Mandy Van Deven and Julie Kubala
Polyphonic Feminisms: Acting in Concert

Joy Castro, "On Becoming Educated"
(page 3 of 6)

In a different class, a graduate seminar on multicultural literature, our professor assigns Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.[2] I enter the seminar room that day with excitement. For the first time in my graduate career, I've encountered a text that speaks passionately to me, a text radical and thrilling, an author whose feminist, ethnic, sexual, and working-class concerns correspond to my own, a book that acknowledges real-world prejudice, poverty, and sexual violation, that mixes poetry and history, memoir and argument. I have fallen in love. In cursive, I've gushed onto the title page of the black paperback: The most incredible book I've ever read. It speaks straight to me.

At last. I can't wait to talk about it.

But the professor, whom I've always admired, opens class by apologizing for having assigned the book at all. He'd included it, he explains, only because he'd heard it was important. But if he'd read it first, he would never have put it on the syllabus: it was too disjointed, too polemical. Students quickly chime in with their discomfort over the book's "angry" content.

I'm confused. My professor and classmates hadn't stumbled over W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, or Maxine Hong Kingston, but Gloria Anzaldúa is somehow too different, too much.

It's the anger in the text, I learn, that bothers them. "She's so angry," they keep saying. For the whole session, I find myself arguing in defense of the book's worth, trying to articulate the difference between being angry by temperament and expressing justified anger in response to violation.

The experience is both alienating and illuminating. Did you think we weren't angry?

Maybe if you're a distinguished professor of law, the notion of your name next to a piece in Cosmo makes you cringe. Maybe if your educational pedigree is immaculate, the remedial intellectual needs of people who grew up with food stamps aren't your problem. Maybe if you're a well-meaning professor teaching ethnic literature, Anzaldúa's anger is the only thing visible. Maybe you can't feel the burn of every injustice she inherited and lived, much less appreciate the elegance of her complex aesthetic.

At the time, I didn't realize that these small incidents were negotiations of power, contests over whose perspectives mattered and whose voices would be permitted and welcomed at the table. At the institution where I did my graduate work in the 1990s, Third World feminism, women-of-color feminism, and transnational feminism hadn't yet trickled down.

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