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Valenzuela: UT to honor legacy of Gloria E. Anzaldúa

Posted: 11:00 p.m. Friday, May 22, 2015

By Liliana Valenzuela – ¡Ahora Sí!

Ahead of her time, ground-breaking author and literary icon Gloria Anzaldúa had to fight to have her voice heard in an academic world that thought she was too brown, too bilingual, too Mexican and too gay.

While a student at the University of Texas, Anzaldúa struggled to have her then-radical ideas accepted by academia. She eventually left Texas for California, but never forgot her south Texas roots. Anzaldúa’s books — “Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza” and the anthology “This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color,” co-edited by Cherrié Moraga — have inspired hundreds of writers, scholars, artists and others from around the world, addressing themes of borders, identity, gender and oppression.

From Wednesday to Saturday, the Center for Mexican American Studies, the department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, and the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collections in hosting “El Mundo Zurdo,” which translates to the left-handed world, a nod to nonconformists like Anzaldúa, a student who couldn’t find a home within the male-dominated, Western-oriented UT literary scene.

Started in 2007 at UT-San Antonio, the event has evolved into a “full-fledged two-day conference with … art exhibits and cultural events,” said professor Norma E. Cantú, the event’s founder. “From the beginning, we have attracted an international audience with speakers from Spain, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, and of course the Americas, Mexico, Canada and Brazil.”

Anzaldúa died in 2004 at the age of 62 of complications from diabetes. Since then, interest in her life and work has only grown.

“The Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa has done tremendous work over the years developing an international profile for this major event,” said Domino Pérez, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies.

The focus of the conference will be on the archives at the Benson, which include Anzaldúa’s correspondence, clippings, photographs, posters and artwork.

“It’s a vindication that her work is in the archives here,” said Cantú.

The importance of figures like Anzaldúa cannot be underestimated.

“Leaders like Gloria Anzaldúa are the purpose of Chicano studies, for students to realize how important their parents are, how important their history is, and then we can move forward together,” said Cynthia Pérez, former co-owner of restaurant Las Manitas and co-owner of La Peña cultural center in Austin.

Anzaldúa held readings at Las Manitas in the 70s. One thing that stayed with Pérez was Anzaldúa’s “willingness to be so humble. She was always the same person with everybody. She never tried to use her degree or education to portray herself as something better.”