Academic journal article Human Organization

A Glass Half Empty: Latina Reproduction and Public Discourse

Academic journal article Human Organization

A Glass Half Empty: Latina Reproduction and Public Discourse

Article excerpt

Latina reproduction and fertility have become ground zero in a political war-not just of words, but of public policies and laws. This article builds on a theoretical framework that includes issues of stratified reproduction, which characterize some women as reproductive threats to society. From an examination of the discourse found in 10 national magazines over a 35-year period, beginning in 1965, emerge three interrelated themes concerning Latina reproductive threat: 1) high fertility and population growth; 2) reconquest; and 3) overuse of medical and other social services. The final section examines data on reproduction and fertility collected from Latinas and Anglo women in Orange County, California, to explore the "truth claims" associated with Latina reproduction and fertility. The findings suggest that Latinas do not begin sexual activities at a relatively early age nor do they have relatively more sexual partners than Anglo women. Most Latinas have used birth control pills at some point in their lives. Latinas generally have fewer than two children per woman. Mexican-origin women born or raised in the Untied States had fewer children than adult immigrants, and their differences from Anglo women were insignificant. Ordinary least squares (OLS) regression finds that age, marital status, education, and language acculturation are more important than ethnicity for understanding fertility.

Key words: politics of reproduction, discourse of Latina reproduction, Mexican and Latin American immigrant fertility, California

Issues surrounding reproduction, once considered the most private and taboo of subjects, have become matters of intense public concern.

Susan Greenhalgh, 1995:3

Latina reproduction and fertility, especially that of Mexican immigrant women, became ground zero in a political war not just of words but also of public policies and laws in post-1965 America.1 Perhaps this should come as no surprise to anthropologists, since Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp (1991, 1995) have argued effectively that scholars need to focus attention on the politics surrounding reproduction, fertility, and women's bodies (Browner 1986, 2000; Greenhalgh 1995; Kanaaneh 2002). Indeed, anti-immigrant sentiment, especially during the 1980s and 1990s, focused specifically on the reproductive capacities of Mexican immigrant and Mexican-origin (U.S.-born) women (Chavez 1997; Chock 1996; Gutierrez 1999; Hondagneu-Sotelo 1995; Wilson 2000; Zavella 1997).2

This article begins with a brief elaboration of the theoretical and rhetorical issues framing this discussion of Latina (women of Latin American origin in the United States) reproduction. Two key questions come out of this review and frame subsequent sections. First, how have Latina reproduction and fertility been constructed? To examine this question, Latina fertility and reproduction are analyzed as key intertwined concepts in a national public discourse on immigration, in a manner suggested by Fraser and Gordon's (1994) research on the keyword "dependency" in the welfare state. The genealogy of Latina "fertility and reproduction" as "threats to U.S. society" are traced in the visual and textual discourse found in 10 national magazines traced over a 35-year period, beginning in 1965 and continuing up to the end of 1999 (Chavez 2001). As Ginsburg and Rapp (1995:6) observe, "Representations provide the arena in which cultural understandings and hierarchies are produced, contested, and revealed." By tracing representations and characterizations of Latina fertility and reproductive capacities, we can generate important questions that become the focus of examination in the next part of this article.

Discourses that construct people with "dangerous," "pathological," and "abnormal" reproductive behaviors and beliefs are not simply of academic interest. There are real political and economic consequences to such constructions. In California, for example, the perceived threat of Latina fertility, especially among immigrants, was central to the "Save Our State" movement that led to Proposition 187, which sought to curb undocumented immigration by denying undocumented immigrants social services, particularly prenatal care and education for their children. …

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