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Estados Unidos esterilizó a mujeres latinas sin su consentimiento en tasas despropocionadas. Photo: Materia.
The United States sterilised Latina women without their consent at disproportionate rates. Photo: Materia.

COVID-19 vaccine awakens traumas among U.S. Latinas without justice

During the 20th century, some 20,000 women and men were sterilised in California alone because of the state's eugenic policies.

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There is talk of "hundreds", although the lawsuit was filed by only 10 women. Most of them, who did not speak English, were led to believe that if they did not sign forms they or their children could die in childbirth. But the reason was not that, but something much darker. And it happened just over 50 years ago. 

How could their daughters and granddaughters not be afraid of history repeating itself?

Set in 1973: A young Mexican migrant woman pregnant with her third child, 24-year-old Consuelo Hermosillo, went to the hospital for an emergency caesarean section. Perhaps Consuelo and her husband would have liked to have more children, a big family, but this was to be their last. 

The Mexican woman was sterilised without her informed consent at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. She was told only that she had to sign papers or her baby would die. However, she doesn't remember filling them out - she was on medication - and no one explained what happened until later, at a doctor's appointment, she asked for birth control.

Now her 22-year-old granddaughter is afraid of being vaccinated against COVID; she thinks she won't be able to get pregnant. 

She told USA Today, which reports in an article that what happened to Hermosillo also happened to other women in the same hospital. Ten of them, Mexicans and Chicanas, were the protagonists in the legendary case of Madrigal v. Quilligan, which was a scandal in the 1970s.

Although the judge in the case ruled in favour of Dr. Edward James Quilligan, the women's struggle inspired legislation passed in 1979 to abolish forced sterilisations in California. 

According to researchers such as University of Michigan professor Alexandra Minna Stern, some 20,000 women and men, mostly Hispanic, may have been sterilised under the state's eugenic policies.

Surprisingly, the 10 plaintiffs in Madrigal v. Quilligan only got an apology from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 2018, but no financial compensation, nor did victims in states like Virginia and North Carolina.

Practices like this happened all over the country and also had southern black women as victims, and Native American women; and nearly a third of the female population of Puerto Rico, who were sterilised after the birth of their second child without their consent - in fact, the first clinical trial of the contraceptive pill was conducted among poor women in San Juan, USA Today notes, citing a historical account published in Canadian Family Physician. 

None of them knew what they were subjecting themselves to. 

The COVID pandemic has opened the pandora's box of unresolved - or even adequately compensated - trauma. Thus, when people talk about the lack of confidence of black, Latino or Native people in the vaccine, appealing in some cases to ignorance or denialism, they tend to forget the terrible racist shadow that hangs on one side over these people whose history cannot be separated from such recent eugenics. 

Equally, the unequal distribution of the vaccine and the disproportionate death within BIPOC communities is the other side of the coin of a hidden but present racism.

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