Mexican Americans and Eugenic Sterilization: Resisting Reproductive Injustice in California, 1920–1950

Natalie Lira, Alexandra Minna Stern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores the racial and gendered dynamics of sterilization in California state institutions from the 1920s to the 1950s, with a focus on the experiences of Mexican-origin patients. A set of recently accessed sterilization authorizations reveals that Mexican-origin patients were sterilized at elevated rates, disproportionate to their share of the state population, under California's eugenic laws. Mexican-origin patients were pathologized as mentally defective and overly fecund in order to justify sterilization. However, these patients and their families challenged California's eugenic laws and forced sterilization, and their struggles for reproductive rights are an important facet of the pursuit of racial and reproductive justice by Chicana/o communities. This article sheds light on the overlooked role of race in the implementation of California's sterilization law and in the policing of men and women who transgressed class and gender norms, deepening our understanding of the historical relationship between medicine, public health, race, and reproduction in the United States.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-34
JournalAztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014


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