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