Latina’s diverse experiences of pregnancy—across recent immigrants, first generations, and beyond—are influenced by multiple social, cultural, political, and historical forces. In some cases, these factors lead to unequal outcomes related to socioeconomic status, education, and access to mental health treatment that put Latinas at a disadvantage during their pregnancies. The finding that Latinas have lower rates of attendance at prenatal care visits, for example, reveals transportation barriers to and from medical facilities, experiences of discrimination due to immigration status, and/or lack of translation services. Some researchers have offered policy prescriptions, such as the incorporation of prenatal classes that attend to Latina experiences, and clinical interventions that help detect intimate partner violence during pregnancy. In other cases, scholars hypothesize positive factors that appear to lead to better pregnancy outcomes, such as family support and a lower incidence of smoking and alcohol consumption, so that Latina immigrants are more likely to have healthier pregnancies. These studies articulate interventions that clinicians could incorporate to build better programs for Latinas during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. Scholars also caution the assumption that ethnic labels as stable variables, or Latina experiences as homogeneous, significantly limits public health research findings and policy implications. Two key issues emerge as topics for understanding Latina pregnancy in United States: acculturation and the “Latino paradox.” First, acculturation is a complex concept that is often used to understand health behavior among Latina mothers. However, using acculturation to explain health inequities among low-income minority women obscures insight into the diverse experiences of Latina migrant women. For instance, migratory patterns, birthplace, language, education level, age, citizenship status, and proportion of life lived in the United States are all important factors that need to be assessed at local and state levels. In addition, the needs of pregnant Latina women are different in different places and depend on different factors that change over time. Second, the “Latina paradox” assumes that, despite low socioeconomic status, recently migrated Latina women have protective factors against premature birth and low birth weight. The over-reliance of the “Latina paradox” has unintended health consequences for pregnant Latina women. For instance, Latina women are not screened for prenatal depression as often as other ethnic groups. Moreover, rates of depression during and after pregnancy are rising across all ethnic groups and especially for Latina women. Stress, anxiety, and depression are health concerns for Latina pregnant and parturient women, as for all such women, and must be understood within socially and historically specific conditions.
Politics of Latina Reproduction
The politics of reproduction writ large underscores the importance of attending to socially constructed norms, power dynamics, and race. Ginsburg and Rapp 1991 proposes the concept of stratified reproduction in order to examine the unequal freedom and reproductive choice that is experienced by different women of color, education levels, and economic status. Other authors highlight the politics that influence how marginalized and poor women of color are targets for excessive clinical intervention and surveillance. The articles draw from themes of race, reproduction, and power. For instance, Chavez 2004, Gutiérrez 2008, and Browner 2000 argue that Latina women are framed as “hyper-fertile,” which influences the clinical and popular discourse regarding birth control and sterilization. Chavez shows how social and racial stereotypes about Latina reproduction are politically manipulated to reinforce conservative and xenophobic immigration policies. Gutiérrez, like Chavez, brings attention to the myths about Latinas’ heightened fertility and higher rates of reproduction. They both expose how this discursive framing of Latina reproduction facilitates the forced sterilization of women from Mexican-origin and Puerto Rican women. At stake in the scholarship on Latina reproduction are issues of immigration, population control, citizenship, and human rights.
Bridges, Khiara. Reproducing Race: An Ethnography of Pregnancy as a Site of Racialization. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.
Bridges focuses on the politics of reproduction for women of color in the United States. She argues that moral judgment is a form of discipline to coerce poor women of color into receiving prenatal care. The reproduction of poor women of color is framed as a threat and risk to the state that requires surveillance.
Browner, C. H. “Situating Women’s Reproductive Activities.” American Anthropologist 102.4 (2000): 773–788.
A dearth of research examines the reproductive choices of women in Latin America. Browner claims that macro factors such as politics, economy, and distribution of wealth are only partly explanatory. Micro factors such as individual and cultural beliefs are also of consequence. Both the micro and macro contribute to a better understanding of Latina reproduction, which includes that of women from Latin American descent across North and South America.
Chavez, Leo. “A Glass Half Empty: Latina Reproduction and Public Discourse.” Human Organization 63.2 (2004): 173–188.
On average, Latinas’ fertility or reproduction is not significantly different from that of Anglo women. The threatening discourse around Latina fertility and reproduction rates justifies interventions toward controlling Latina reproduction. The case of Latina reproduction reflects how topics such as reproduction are made public and connected to political issues of migration, belonging, citizenship, and race.
Ginsburg, Faye, and Rayna Rapp. “The Politics of Reproduction.” Annual Review of Anthropology 20 (1991): 311–343.
The authors argue that reproduction lies at the center of social theory because it reflects both social and biological forms of production and reproduction. It is the source and the means by which populations are maintained and defined. They highlight that controlling reproduction is a mechanism of population management, which serves to preserve labor, economy, and health.
Gutiérrez, Elena. Fertile Matters: The Politics of Mexican-Origin Women’s Reproduction. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.
Gutiérrez reveals that in the 1970s the University of Southern California–Los Angeles County Medical Center participated in the systematic and forced sterilization of women of Mexican origin. The book argues that the stereotypical impression that Mexican American and Mexican immigrant women are “hyper-fertile” is a result of a long history of racism and discrimination that shapes social and political practices.
López, Iris. Matters of Choice: Puerto Rican Women’s Struggle for Reproductive Freedom. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008.
López explores the issue of sterilization among Puerto Rican women and argues that a dichotomous framing of victim or agent does not capture the nuance related to Puerto Rican women’s reproductive practices. This longitudinal narrative, which followed fifteen Puerto Rican women over the course of twenty-five years, offers a unique perspective into the complicated negotiations that are involved in the women’s choice to be sterilized.
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