nation: Puerto Rico (territory of U.S.)

Flashback Friday.

U.S. women of color have historically been the victims of forced sterilization.  Sometimes women were sterilized during Cesarean sections and never told; others were threatened with termination of welfare benefits or denial of medical care if they didn’t “consent” to the procedure; teaching hospitals would sometimes perform unnecessary hysterectomies on poor women of color as practice for their medical residents.  In the south it was such a widespread practice that it had a euphemism: a “Mississippi appendectomy.”

Interestingly, today populations that were subject to this abuse have high rates of voluntary sterilization.  A recent report by the Urban Indian Health Institute included data showing that, compared to non-Hispanic white women (in gray), American Indian and Alaskan Native women (in cream) have very high rates of sterilization:

Iris Lopez, in an article titled “Agency and Constraint,” writes about what she discovered when she asked Puerto Rican women in New York City why they choose to undergo sterilization.

During the U.S. colonization of Puerto Rico, over 1/3rd of all women were sterilized.  And, today, still, Puerto Rican women in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. have “one of the highest documented rates of sterilization in the world.”  Two-thirds of these women are sterilized before the age of 30.

Lopez finds that 44% of the women would not have chosen the surgery if their economic conditions were better.  They wanted, but simply could not afford more children.

They also talked about the conditions in which they lived and explained that they didn’t want to bring children into that world.  They:

…talked about the burglaries, the lack of hot water in the winter and the dilapidated environment in which they live. Additionally, mothers are constantly worried about the adverse effect that the environment might have on their children. Their neighborhoods are poor with high rates of visible crime and substance abuse. Often women claimed that they were sterilized because they could not tolerate having children in such an adverse environment…

Many were unaware of other contraceptive options.  Few reported that their health care providers talked to them about birth control. So, many of them felt that sterilization was the only feasible “choice.”

Lopez argues that, by contrasting the choice to become sterilized with the idea of forced sterilization, we overlook the fact that choices are primed by larger institutional structures and ideological messages.  Reproductive freedom not only requires the ability to choose from a set of safe, effective convenient and affordable methods of birth control developed for men and women, but also a context of equitable social, political and economic conditions that allows women to decide whether or not to have children, how many, and when.

Originally posted in 2010. Cross-posted at Ms. 

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

I know everyone is tired of hearing or thinking about the U.S. presidential election, but Latino Decisions has released an interactive website that shows how Latinos/as in the U.S. voted, as well as the issues they found particularly important.

In many of the swing states, Latinos formed an essential part of President Obama’s winning coalition of voters. As you may have heard by now, Latinos voted overwhelmingly Democratic, with about 3/4 voting for President Obama:

But this varied by ancestry. Among Cuban Americans, only 44% supported Obama, while he received 96% of votes cast by Dominican Americans, 78% by Mexican Americans, 83% by Puerto Ricans, 76% by Central Americans, and 79% by South Americans (hover over the graph here to see the %s):

Language also made a difference. Among those who speak primarily English, Obama got 70% of the vote; among those who speak Spanish, it was 83%:

Religion was an even bigger factor. While 81% of Catholic Latinos voted for President Obama, he got a much smaller majority — 54% — among those who identified as born-again Christians:

The website also lets you get specific data on a number of swing states or states with large or growing Latino populations, as well as breakdowns of the issues that Latino voters said were most important to them. It’s an interesting website with a lot of breakdowns, so it’s worth clicking over and looking around.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Dmitriy T.M. reminded me of this classic performance of the song “America” from a classic American musical, West Side Story (1961; it won 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture).  The song features white New Yorkers and Puerto Rican immigrants debating about the benefits of living in America.  The “streets paved with gold” mythology is articulated by the women at the same time that the white men remind them that they face racism and poverty.

Also, Rita Moreno is awesome:

UPDATE: Commenter Jesse W. says,

…as a theater nerd, I wanted to point out it’s not a debate between white New Yorkers and Puerto Ricans, I think you just get that impression from the bad casting. They’re all supposed to be Puerto Rican; it’s more of a battle of the sexes between the men who wanted to stay in the old country and the women who wanted to come to America.

And Laura says,

…the women are arguing with the men that America is great, and they prefer it to Puerto Rico, and the men are arguing that America is racist and oppressive.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

English First is an organization advocating the adoption of English-only laws in the U.S., which would mean government agencies and officials would not be allowed to conduct any type of business in a language other than English. They also oppose bilingual education and bilingual ballots. Here is a screenshot of their homepage’s banner; perhaps you will note a small irony, coming from an organization concerned about people being unable to use the English language:

There is a very clear anti-immigrant stance, which in some cases bleeds over into a general anti-Latino perspective. For instance, the website has a link to a letter sent to Attorney General Mukasey, expressing concern over Department of Justice statements about plans to crack down on voter intimidation:

Yet under the new DOJ policies as we understand them, anyone who dares complain when they see a busload of illegal aliens pulling up to a polling place could be arrested on the spot by agents of their own government.

What’s interesting here is the idea that you could immediately spot “a busload of illegal aliens.” I could be wrong here, but I’m guessing that to at least some members of the organization, any vehicle with Latinos (or other brown-skinned people) in it might be targeted as full of “illegal aliens.”

The organization also blames Hispanic legislators for the failure of the original financial bailout bill.

One of English First’s projects is No Statehood for Puerto Rico. Technically speaking, the population of Puerto Rico has the right to become a state, should a majority ever vote to do so. All Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and can travel freely between the island and the mainland, with no need for a passport or visa. Here are some images from the homepage:

I think the hand at the bottom of that last image is supposed to be begging for a handout.

All of these images portray Puerto Rico as a money-sucking burden on the rest of the U.S. The website questions Puerto Ricans’ patriotism (because they protest military training at Vieques, unlike the good people of Oklahoma, who do not protest military training at Ft. Sill), links Puerto Rico to terrorism, and argues that Puerto Rico is a “proud, Spanish-speaking nation” and thus wouldn’t want to be a state anyway (leading to questions of why any of this is an issue, since the population would presumably never vote for statehood anyway). I am unclear whether English First advocates total Puerto Rican independence from the U.S., or just keeping it from becoming a state.

English First has a handy list of states that have English-Only laws, as well as which ones have been overturned.

You might also check out Lisa’s recent post on an organization that linked anti-immigration and pro-environment stances.