Giving Compass' Take:

• Nicole L. Novak and Natalie Lira explain that forced sterilization in California disproportionately impacted Latina women who continue to face discrimination. 

• In what ways do you see the lasting impacts of racism against latina mothers? How can policy and private philanthropy work to correct past misconduct and prevent future abuse?

• Learn how one Latina leader is empowering girls

In the first half of the 20th century, approximately 60,000 people were sterilized under U.S. eugenics programs. Eugenic laws in 32 states empowered government officials in public health, social work and state institutions to render people they deemed “unfit” infertile.

California led the nation in this effort at social engineering. Between the early 1920s and the 1950s, approximately 20,000 people – one-third of the national total – were sterilized in California state institutions for the mentally ill and disabled.

To better understand the nation’s most aggressive eugenic sterilization program, our research team tracked sterilization requests of over 20,000 people.

Latino men were 23 percent more likely to be sterilized than non-Latino men. The difference was even greater among women, with Latinas sterilized at 59 percent higher rates than non-Latinas.

Eugenics policies were shaped by entrenched hierarchies of race, class, gender and ability. Working-class youth, especially youth of color, were targeted for commitment and sterilization during the peak years.

Eugenic thinking was also used to support racist policies like anti-miscegenation laws and the Immigration Act of 1924. Anti-Mexican sentiment in particular was spurred by theories that Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans were at a “lower racial level.” Contemporary politicians and state officials often described Mexicans as inherently less intelligent, immoral, “hyperfertile” and criminally inclined.

Latina women’s reproduction is repeatedly portrayed as a threat to the nation. Latina immigrants in particular are seen as hyperfertile. Their children are sometimes derogatorily referred to as “anchor babies” and described as a burden on the nation.

Read the full article on racist forced sterilization by Nicole L. Novak and Natalie Lira at The Conversation.