Natalie Lira, "Laboratory of Deficiency: Sterilization and Confinement in California, 1900-1950s" (U California Press, 2021)


Mirelsie Velázquez (Associate Professor & Rainbolt Family Endowed Presidential Professor, University of Oklahoma) speaks with Natalie Lira (Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) about Lira’s recent book, Laboratory of Deficiency: Sterilization and Confinement in California, 1900-1950s (University of California Press, 2021).

Over 20,000 residents of California were sterilized in the first half of the twentieth century. A vast archive of the sterilization request records provides chilling evidence of the identities and family resources of these people. Furthermore, the documents explain why physicians and social workers deemed reproductive intervention to be in the interests of the state. Using the records from the Pacific Colony institution, Lira investigates why young women and men of Mexican origin were disproportionately detained, narrates their experiences of confinement and sterilization, and traces diverse strands testifying to widespread individual and familial resistance. In this conversation, Lira and Velázquez dig deeper into some of the themes addressed in Lira’s book, and reflect broadly on the cultural and racialist assumptions that fuel carceral and sterilization strategies a century ago and in the present day.

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Jennifer Davis Cline

Davis Cline is Associate Professor of History, University of Oklahoma and Co-Editor, Journal of Women's History

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