Fertile Matters: The Politics of Mexican-Origin Women's Reproduction

Fertile Matters: The Politics of Mexican-Origin Women's Reproduction

Fertile Matters: The Politics of Mexican-Origin Women's Reproduction

Fertile Matters: The Politics of Mexican-Origin Women's Reproduction

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

Fertile Matters is an exploration of the ways we have come to think about the reproduction of women of Mexican origin in the United States. In particular, I look closely at one of the most popular and longstanding public stereotypes that portray Mexican American and Mexican women as “hyper-fertile baby machines” who “breed like rabbits.” Although these labels have become colloquially acceptable, I use them to also signify the related beliefs that Mexican families are unduly large and that Mexican-origin women do not use birth control. By examining the historical and sociopolitical evolution of these racial stereotypes, I reveal a complex network of character, ideology, time, and place that has yielded the collectively accepted image of women of Mexican origin as prolific “breeders.”

Chicana feminist scholars have previously documented the existence of this stereotype. However, during the course of writing this book, I was struck by the resilience of these images within public perceptions. For example, almost without fail, when I mentioned that I was researching the reproductive politics of Mexican American women, I received the response, “That is such an important topic. They have so many children!” Latino and non-Latino individuals alike often pointed out the “huge problem” of teenage pregnancy in Latino communities or commented that Latinas do not use birth control. Many asked me to explain why Mexican women have so many children. This widespread perception that Mexican women have too many children, and the belief that this reproductive behavior is a social problem that requires fixing, compelled me to continue trying to understand the sources and consequences of these ideas.

Although the stereotype of Mexican-origin women as perpetually pregnant is longstanding, our reproduction has been targeted for the past fifteen years as a major U.S. social problem. Newspapers carry headlines about the changing composition of the nation's racial and ethnic makeup . . .

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