(The Real Agenda News) In the first half of the 20th century, approximately 60,000 people were sterilized through eugenics programs in the United States.
Different laws in 32 states allowed public officials in institutions, both public health and social work, to sterilize people they considered “unfit” to have babies.
In the best style of Nazi Germany, California was a leader in these social engineering efforts.
Between the 1920s and 1950s, some 20,000 people – a third of the national total – were sterilized in California institutions for the mentally ill and the disabled.
To better understand the most aggressive eugenics sterilization program in the nation, a research team tracked sterilization applications of more than 20,000 people.
Eugenics based on Racism
Among other issues, it was important to determine what role the race of patients played in sterilization decisions.
What made women like a target for these policies?
How and why were they considered “unfit”?
The racial biases affected the life of thousands of people.
Their experiences serve as an important historical background to the current social problems of the United States.
In the 20th century, eugenics was seen as a “science” and the ideas of eugenicists were popular until the middle of the century.
Advocating for the betterment of the human race, proponents of eugenics backed the sterilization of those they deemed unfit to reproduce.
That kind of initiatives are still being pushed by “philanthropists” such as Bill Gates and his foundation.
The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation occupies itself with supporting sterilization programs all over the world. These programs are dressed as vaccination campaigns or food programs.
Eugenics mandated by “Law”
Under the law of eugenics of California, approved for the first time in 1909, any person interned in a state institution could be sterilized.
Many of the internees were sent by court order, others were interned by members of the family who did not want or could not care for them. Once a patient was admitted, the medical superintendents had the legal power to recommend and authorize the operation.
The eugenic policies were applied with entrenched hierarchies of race, class, gender and capacity.
The youth of the working class, especially the young people of color, became the target of these forced hospitalizations and sterilizations during the years of apogee of these policies.
Eugenic thinking was also used to support racist policies such as the anti-miscegenation laws and the Immigration Act of 1924.
Anti-Mexican sentiment, in particular, was driven by theories that Mexican and Mexican-American immigrants had a “lower racial level.”
Politicians and officials at the time often described Mexicans as inherently less intelligent, immoral, hyper-fertile and criminally inclined.
These stereotypes also appeared in reports written by state authorities, which described Mexicans and their descendants as “immigrants of an undesirable kind.” If its existence in the United States was undesirable, then so was its reproduction.
Latinos and Latinas, in the cross hairs
In a study published on March 22, an invetigation focused on the disproportionately high impact that the California program had on the Latino population, primarily on women and men of Mexican origin.
Previous research had examined racial bias in California’s sterilization program, but the extent of this anti-Latino bias had never been formally quantified. Latinas were clearly targeted for sterilization, but to what extent?
Proof of the racial bias was documented with official sterilization forms found by historian Alexandra Minna Stern to construct a data set of more than 20,000 people recommended for sterilization in California between 1919 and 1953.
The racial categories used to classify Californians of Mexican origin were changing during this period, so we use Spanish surnames as a proxy.
In 1950, 88% of California Spanish surnames were of Mexican descent.
Documents were used to compare patients recommended for sterilization with the general population of patients from each institution, which had been reconstructed with the census data.
That data was then compared to sterilization rates between Latino and non-Latino patients, adjusting for age.
Both Latino patients and those recommended for sterilization tended to be younger.
Data shows that Latino men were 23% more likely to be sterilized than non-Latino men.
The difference was even greater among women: Latinas sterilization rates were 59% higher than non-Latinas.
In their records, doctors repeatedly refer to young Latinos as biologically predisposed to delinquency, while describing young Latinas as “sex offenders.”
Sterilizations were described as necessary to protect the State from increased crime, poverty and racial degeneration.
Eugenics and its effects on the Population
The legacy of these infractions of reproductive rights is still visible today.
This is demonstrated by recent incidents in Tennessee, California and Oklahoma.
In each case, people in contact with the criminal justice system – often people of color – were sterilized under the coercion of the State.
Contemporary justifications for this practice are still based on the fundamental principles of eugenics.
Advocates argue that preventing the reproduction of some will help solve large social problems, such as poverty.
The doctors who sterilized women incarcerated in California without proper consent stated that doing so could save the state money in future costs of services for “unwanted children.”
The echoes of eugenics are also heard today in the broader American cultural and political landscape.
The reproduction of Latina women is often portrayed as a threat to the nation.
Latina immigrants, in particular, are seen as hyper-fertile.
Eugenics of all minorities
This story – and other stories of sterilization abuse of black women, indigenous people, immigrants from Mexico and Puerto Ricans – has been reflected in the modern reproductive justice movement.
This movement, defined by the defense group Sister Song Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, is committed to “the human right to maintain personal body autonomy, have children, not have children and raise children that we have in safe communities and sustainable “.
As the struggle for contemporary reproductive justice continues, it is important to recognize and address the mistakes of the past.
The California Latinas for Reproductive Justice organization has co-sponsored a bill that provides economic reparation to survivors of the eugenics sterilization programs in the state of California.
“As advocates of reproductive justice, we recognize the insidious impact that state-sponsored policies have on the dignity and rights of poor women of color, who are often stripped of their ability to form the families they want,” says the executive director of the group, Laura Jiménez.
This project was presented on February 15 by Senator Nancy Skinner, along with Monique Limón, a member of the assembly, and Senator Jim Beall.
If the law is approved, California would follow in the footsteps of North Carolina and Virginia, which began reparations programs for forced sterilization in 2013 and 2015.
In the words of Jiménez, “this bill is a step in the right direction in repairing the violence inflicted on these survivors.”
Unfortunately, financial reparation can never compensate for the violation of the fundamental human rights of the survivors. But it is an opportunity to reaffirm the dignity and self-determination of every human being.
This article appeared first on The Conversation on March 22, 2018.