Posted: March 18th, 2023
Gloria Anzaldua captures the essence of the Aztlan homeland and its mestizo nature in “Wind tugging at my sleeve.” Using diction conveying a strong sense of place and geography invokes the specific qualities of the land and climate necessary for anchoring the reader. The importance of geographic space is a core theme of the poem, as the speaker refers repeatedly to issues related to political borders and the artificial separation they create. Colonization and the rape of indigenous cultures is also tied in thematically with Anzaldua’s work, which bears emotions like anger, longing, frustration, and hope. The message is that borders erected out of colonial arrogance are artificial and tenuous, and cannot stand up to the remarkable power of nature or the persistence of culture. The poem encapsulates the essence of la frontera, both on a personal and political level.
Geography is central to “Wind tugging at my sleeve,” which is why natural elements including wind, sea, and desert comprise the core imagery of the poem. Human emotions and experiences are expressed metaphorically through nature, surroundings, and physical space. This allows the poet to anthropomorphize the natural elements too. For example, “Oigo el llorido del mar, el respire del aire,” which means she listens to the crying of the sea and the breathing of the air (p. 24, stanza 2, lines 1-2). The gulls also “cry” (p. 24, stanza 2, line 4). Imagery of tears permeates the poem with words like “flow,” to emphasize the emotion of sadness.
The importance of geography in “Wind tugging at my sleeve” is not sentimental, but rather, political and deeply personal. Anzaldua focuses on the theme of borders in this poem, and how political boundaries imposed on people creates an artificial and painful rift in a society. The “barbwire” of the border has become her “home,” and the “wire fence” and its “rodâ€¦splits me, splits me, me raja,” the narrator states (p. 24-25). Anzaldua refers of course to the U.S.-Mexican border and the “1950-mile long open wound / dividing a pueblo, a culture,” (p. 24, last stanza, line 1). The wound is felt collectively in the soul of her people, as well as viscerally in her body, as the narrator refers directly to her flesh. The political is always personal, and the personal is always political.
Although sadness and anger do represent core emotions conveyed through Anzaldua’s poem, an equally strong message of hope surfaces especially toward the end. First, the narrator states, “This land was Mexican once, / was Indian always / and is / And will be again,” (p. 25, stanza 3). Then, the final stanza is written in Spanish, and the narrator refers to herself as a “puente,” or a bridge. She is a metaphorical bridge between two cultures. Biculturalism and bilingualism are also core themes of “Wind tugging at my sleeve.” This is why Anzaldua chooses to flow between English and Spanish, in a way that is natural in the cross-border lands. Just as “the sea cannot be fenced / el mar does not stop at borders,” political boundaries cannot prevent the re-unification of indigenous people (p. 25, stanza 2). The opening image of “wind tugging at my sleeve” is echoed in the invocation of indigenous goddess Yemaya, who “blew that wire fence down” to facilitate the joyous reunion of people (p. 25).
Borders are imposed upon people to serve the needs of arrogant leaders and powerful groups in the dominant society. “Wind tugging at my sleeve” is a poem of political protest, in which the narrator laments the effects the border has had on indigenous people and her ancestors. The poem also provides hope that the subjugated peoples can retain and therefore reclaim their identities. By recognizing the “brown blood” in her veins, Anzaldua urges readers to heed the call of the wind tugging at their sleeves too (p. 24).
Anzaldua, Gloria. “Wind tugging at my sleeve.” In Chapter 1 of Borderlands/La Frontera.
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