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Fertile Matters

Fertile Matters

ELENA R. GUTIÉRREZ
Copyright Date: 2008
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/716810
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    Fertile Matters
    Book Description:

    While the stereotype of the persistently pregnant Mexican-origin woman is longstanding, in the past fifteen years her reproduction has been targeted as a major social problem for the United States. Due to fear-fueled news reports and public perceptions about the changing composition of the nation's racial and ethnic makeup-the so-called Latinization of America-the reproduction of Mexican immigrant women has become a central theme in contemporary U. S. politics since the early 1990s.

    In this exploration, Elena R. Gutiérrez considers these public stereotypes of Mexican American and Mexican immigrant women as "hyper-fertile baby machines" who "breed like rabbits." She draws on social constructionist perspectives to examine the historical and sociopolitical evolution of these racial ideologies, and the related beliefs that Mexican-origin families are unduly large and that Mexican American and Mexican immigrant women do not use birth control.

    Using the coercive sterilization of Mexican-origin women in Los Angeles as a case study, Gutiérrez opens a dialogue on the racial politics of reproduction, and how they have developed for women of Mexican origin in the United States. She illustrates how the ways we talk and think about reproduction are part of a system of racial domination that shapes social policy and affects individual women's lives.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79456-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Anthropology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. A NOTE ON TERMINOLOGY (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. xv-xxii)
  6. ONE THE FERTILITY OF WOMEN OF MEXICAN ORIGIN A Social Constructionist Approach (pp. 1-13)

    “I think what we are trying to show is that throughout the entire period that the doctors were not using medical reasons to perform these sterilizations, but were using social reasons. That is very pertinent to this case.”¹

    Attorney Antonia Hernández spoke these words as she implored federal district court judge Jesse Curtis to hear the testimony of her next witness. Along with co-counsel Charles Nabarette, Hernández represented ten women of Mexican origin filing a class-action civil suit against physicians at the University of Southern California–Los Angeles County Medical Center (LACMC). The plaintiff s in the case of Madrigal...

  7. CHAPTER TWO THE TWIN PROBLEMS OF OVERPOPULATION AND IMMIGRATION IN 1970S CALIFORNIA (pp. 14-34)

    When the physicians at LACMC identified Mexican-origin women as excessively fertile and as prime candidates for sterilization, they were defining a key “social problem” of the 1970s and its solution. Indeed, during the 1960s and 1970s a host of interests converged that collectively created a watershed period in the social construction of Mexican-origin women’s fertility as problematic. In addition, several national discourses and political controversies flourished during this pivotal period, all of which defined new social problems.

    Although these problems are sometimes understood as separate social issues, each attracting different constituencies with often contradictory claims, the interrelationships between them were...

  8. CHAPTER THREE “THEY BREED LIKE RABBITS” The Forced Sterilization of Mexican-Origin Women (pp. 35-54)

    Antonia Hernández had just begun her first job as a staff attorney at the Los Angeles County Center for Law and Justice when Bernard Rosenfeld, a resident at LACMC, approached her with data proving that women were being coercively sterilized there.¹ Rosenfeld provided her with information on more than 180 cases of primarily Spanish-surname women who were sterilized during childbirth. All were approached by hospital staff who recommended the procedure during the late stages of their labor, after they had already been administered large doses of Demerol or Valium. Many of the women required emergency cesarean sections, and following their...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR “MORE THAN A HINT OF EXTRAORDINARY FERTILITY. . . .” Social Science Perspectives on Mexican-Origin Women’s Reproductive Behavior (1912–1980) (pp. 55-72)

    In a 1973 article published in the academic journal Social Biology,¹ demographer Peter Uhlenberg remarked that “the strikingly high fertility of Mexican Americans relative to the dominant pattern in the United States has received almost no sociological or demographic analysis.”² Noting that no other racial or ethnic group in the United States has maintained a fertility rate comparable to that of Mexican Americans (not even Native Americans, who were often charged with excessively high fertility rates), Uhlenberg queried social scientists’ lack of attention to these distinctive population characteristics. In fact, fertility data for persons with Spanish surnames in five southwestern...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE CONTROLLING BORDERS AND BABIES John Tanton, ZPG, and Racial Anxiety over Mexican-Origin Women’s Fertility (pp. 73-93)

    So begins the preface to Paul Ehrlich’s 1979 book The Golden Door, written with his wife, Anne, and Loy Bilderback. Published eleven years after Paul Ehrlich’s first treatise, The Population Bomb (1968), the new book identified a different problem plaguing the nation—the arrival of super-fertile Mexican immigrants.

    In Chapter Two I demonstrated that discussions about population and immigration developed as overlapping discourses throughout the 1970s, particularly in California. Here I argue that as concern about the so-called population problem abated after demographers began issuing reports of a declining U.S. birthrate (which many population control activists attributed to their efforts...

  11. CHAPTER SIX THE RIGHT TO HAVE CHILDREN Chicanas Organizing Against Sterilization Abuse (pp. 94-108)

    Yolanda Nava, representing Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional, began her 1973 testimony before the California Commission on the Status of Women with a frank and fundamental point: “Let me begin by stating that contrary to the stereotype of the Chicana at home making tortillas and babies, the Chicana has been and will continue to be an integral part of the work force.”¹ Comisión is a feminist group founded in 1970 to focus on the needs and issues relevant to Chicanas. As one of the first and only organizations focusing on Chicana issues and promoting Chicana leadership, Comisión and Latina concerns were...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN “BABY-MAKERS AND WELFARE TAKERS” The (Not-So) New Politics of Mexican-Origin Women’s Reproduction (pp. 109-122)

    On October 9, 1988, the Arizona Republic published the above confidential memo intended only for participants in a private study group concerned with the demographic changes occurring in the United States. The study group, convened by John H. Tanton, previous president of Zero Population Growth (ZPG) and founder of both the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and U.S. English, included distinguished academics, politicians, and lobbyists.¹ Having been a citizen-activist for over two decades, Tanton yearly assembled friends, contributors, and colleagues to discuss and develop strategies addressing what he considered to be the most pressing national matters of the day....

  13. EPILOGUE (pp. 123-128)

    Just over thirty years after the case of Madrigal v. Quilligan was tried, reporter Fransizka Castillo wrote an essay about the anniversary of the case, published in Latina magazine. Included to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, the four-page spread focused on the valiant efforts of Antonia Hernández and Comisión Femenil, the Chicana professionals who undertook the fight, rather than specifically detailing the abuses that occurred at Los Angeles County Medical Center.¹ Although Rodríguez originally pitched the story to make links to current coercive sterilization in Peru, she was ultimately forced to eliminate most of the details of the abuse that occurred...

  14. NOTES (pp. 129-164)
  15. REFERENCES (pp. 165-184)
  16. INDEX (pp. 185-200)