Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Fit to Be Citizens? demonstrates how both science and public health shaped the meaning of race in the early twentieth century. Through a careful examination of the experiences of Mexican, Japanese, and Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles, Natalia Molina illustrates the many ways local health officials used complexly constructed concerns about public health to demean, diminish, discipline, and ultimately define racial groups. She shows how the racialization of Mexican Americans was not simply a matter of legal exclusion or labor exploitation, but rather that scientific discourses and public health practices played a key role in assigning negative racial characteristics to the group. The book skillfully moves beyond the binary oppositions that usually structure works in ethnic studies by deploying comparative and relational approaches that reveal the racialization of Mexican Americans as intimately associated with the relative historical and social positions of Asian Americans, African Americans, and whites. Its rich archival grounding provides a valuable history of public health in Los Angeles, living conditions among Mexican immigrants, and the ways in which regional racial categories influence national laws and practices. Molina’s compelling study advances our understanding of the complexity of racial politics, attesting that racism is not static and that different groups can occupy different places in the racial order at different times.
List of Illustrations
1. Interlopers in the Land of Sunshine: Chinese Disease Carriers, Launderers, and Vegetable Peddlers
2. Caught between Discourses of Disease, Health, and Nation: Public Health Attitudes toward Japanese and Mexican Laborers in Progressive-Era Los Angeles
3. Institutionalizing Public Health in Ethnic Los Angeles in the 1920s
4. “We Can No Longer Ignore the Problem of the Mexican”: Depression-Era Public Health Policies in Los Angeles
5. The Fight for “Health, Morality, and Decent Living Standards”: Mexican Americans and the Struggle for Public Housing in 1930s Los Angeles
Epilogue: Genealogies of Racial Discourses and Practices
Natalia Molina is Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies and Urban Studies at the University of California, San Diego.
“An important advance on previous dissections of the close (and ongoing) links between medicine and racialization in the United States. . . . Molina has written an engaging history that is all the more compelling for its relevance to racialization in the 21st century.”—American Journal Of Sociology / AJS
“Molina accomplishes a formidable feat in this book through incisive analysis, elegant prose, and a passionate engagement with the cruel paradox that groups who suffer poor health due to political, social, and economic disenfranchisement all too often are scapegoated as disease vectors. Fit to Be Citizens? is a sophisticated monograph that should serve as a model for ethnic studies scholarship on race, health, and the body politic in modern America.”—Western Historical Qtly
"Fit to Be Citizens
is tightly organized, crisply and clearly argued, and beautifully written throughout. Molina paints a vivid portrait of an understudied dimension of southern California social history."—David G. Gutiérrez, author of Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity
"This riveting study crosses boundaries of both discipline and nationality to marvelous effect."—David Roediger, author of Working Toward Whiteness
Norris and Carol Hundley Award, Pacific Coast Branch American Historical Association