My first reaction after reading James Baldwin and Gloria Anzaldua back to back was to seriously question Professor Vander Zee’s motives for having us read these two stories together. Baldwin’s autobiography is written from the perspective of a black man living in Harlem at the beginning of the twentieth century, while Anzaldua’s text is written from the perspective of a female Chicano (a mexican / american / native indian) writing about her life in the southwest in the mid to late twentieth century. At first glance, it seems difficult to draw the connections. However, while they are discussing two very different microcosms, Anzaldua and Baldwin meet in the macrosphere of autobiography through the way they discuss their intersectional identities and their struggles as artists experimenting in a field of tradition.
Both of Anzaldua and Baldwin are dealing with borderlands, struggles with bicultural and even multicultural identities and this connects these two writes, as Anzaldua notes in her introduction how “the psychological borderlands, the sexual borderlands, and the spiritual borderlands are not particular to the Southwest” (2). Both of these writers seem to feel the stress of being stuck between different identities, black and white, mexican and american, and are trying to find their self in the midst of their seemingly fragmented selves. Baldwin describes himself as a “a bastard of the west” (6), which is made even more interesting by the fact that he mostly talks about his father in the exert we read for class. Anzaldua describes herself as a “border woman” who grew up between two cultures (2). While their experiences are different, they both feel alienated from the “normal” American white society and their own ethnic society. This seems to leave them suspended in a kind of existential crisis. Where they seem to find their true identity, their sense of being and belonging, is as writers, as artists. Anzaldua states, “living in a state of psychic unrest, in a borderland, is what makes poets write and artists create” (95). Similarly Baldwin discusses the copious amounts of terrible African American literature and how he struggles to be defined as an African American writer or to associate more with his love of Faulkner or Shakespeare. Baldwin states, “This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of ife that order which is art” (7), and the disorder in these writers’ lives is what fuels their writing. While they may express intersectional identities, I feel as if they come to terms with the fact that this is not a negative thing or at least are trying to convince the reader that this is not a bad thing. So in the end, I thank this class for letting me be able to draw connections between what appears to be two very different writers.