Fit to Be Citizens?: Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879-1939 | My Paper Hub

Fit to Be Citizens?: Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879-1939


The book “Fit To Be Citizens?” by Natalia Molina gives a precise account of the racialization of Los Angeles-based on science and public health bringing about the meaning of race to the twentieth century. She examines the Mexican, Japanese and Chi...Read More


~Posted on Sep 2018

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The book “Fit To Be Citizens?” by Natalia Molina ...

The book “Fit To Be Citizens?” by Natalia Molina gives a precise account of the racialization of Los Angeles-based on science and public health bringing about the meaning of race to the twentieth century. She examines the Mexican, Japanese and Chinese Immigrants in Los Angeles illustrating how the local health officials idealized the populations that Los Angeles had a perfect environment that was natural but the immigrants were the source of public health hazards in the region. They used the public health campaigns to demean, exploit and also discriminate the immigrants mores o the Mexican Americans who were the majority of the immigrants bringing about the public health and scientific discourses to the racialization of Los Angeles.

In chapter 1 Molina highlights the role that a Health Officer named Walter Lindley played after assessing the state of the public health in the city in 1879 as he made it clear that they would strive to have the Public Health play a role in shaping up the image of Los Angeles. Lindley in his report stated that Los Angeles was in good condition but referred to Chinatown as “that rotten spot” that tarnished the image of Los Angeles (27). It is this that shaped the image of the Chinese as the ones that tarnished the town and also shaped the perception of the public to the Chinese as being different from the natives that were clean and naturally promoted the Public health of the region. It spurred the racist attitudes that developed among individuals regarding the Chinese immigrants. It is this combined with many other social, cultural, economic and political forces that began reshaping what the Chinese and other immigrants meant to the future of Los Angeles leading to the racialized municipal reforms, zoning out of Chinese laundries, uneven application of the laws and ultimate organize resistance to the discrimination by the Chinese.

In chapter 2 Molina demonstrates the shift in public health attitudes towards the Japanese and Mexican Laborers sparked by the warning made by the 1919 Los Angeles health officer, Dr. John Larabee Pomeroy  saying, “influx of ignorant aliens into our county (56).” Pomery implication that the legitimate residents were the whites furthered the Lindley ideology and thus leading to the alienation of the Mexicans and Japanese regarding their way of living within the county. The immigrants were caught up in the political, public health and disease discourses of the county leading to their racialization. It is these events that shaped up the institutionalization of racism and ethnicity within Public health of the county as articulated in Chapter 3 of the book. By the 1920s, the county officials were looking at the Mexicans as a cohort that presented the real challenge to the growth of the county referring to them as “birds of passage,” due to their large population (83). The presence of the Mexicans was perceived as being potentially ruinous and hence the need to eliminate them from the residences furthering discrimination against the Mexican Americans.

The high mortality rates among the Mexicans due to Tuberculosis and also prenatal and postnatal death related the mayor idealized complications as existing among the Mexicans due to their poverty, illiteracy and poor living and housing. It is this that led to rallying images of the dangers posed by the Mexicans to avoid their further immigration into Los Angeles. The Great Depression offered an opportunity to stop any form of immigration due to the economic difficulties faced (130) and also demanded the registration and fingerprinted of the present aliens within the county. The racialization of health was furthered by the political blame game that ensued as the Mexicans were taken to be demeaning the public health of the region. With the increase of immigration of Mexicans in the 1930s, the officials sought to deport all the Mexicans perceived as being diseased (139). It is this that led to the further racialization of public health in the county.

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