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Pacific Colony, a Southern California institution established to care for the “feebleminded,” justified the incarceration, sterilization, and forced mutilation of some of the most vulnerable members of society from the 1920s through the 1950s. Institutional records document the convergence of ableism and racism in Pacific Colony. Analyzing a vast archive, Natalie Lira reveals how political concerns over Mexican immigration—particularly ideas about the low intelligence, deviant sexuality, and inherent criminality of the “Mexican race”—shaped decisions regarding the treatment and reproductive future of Mexican-origin patients. Laboratory of Deficiency documents the ways Mexican-origin people sought out creative resistance to institutional control and offers insight into how race, disability, and social deviance have been called upon to justify the confinement and reproductive constraint of certain individuals in the name of public health and progress.
"Lira's multilayered research and analysis provide a powerful model for understanding and challenging the reproductive coercion of Mexican-origin youth in California state institutions and beyond."—Elena R. Gutiérrez, author of Fertile Matters: The Politics of Mexican-origin Women's Reproduction
"Highlights the devastating and disproportionate impact of the racialization, sexualization, and medicalization of Mexican-origin women in the early twentieth century."—Miroslava Chávez-García, Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara
"Brilliantly conceived, researched, and organized."—John Mckiernan-Gonzalez, Director of the Center for the Study of the Southwest, Texas State University
"This brilliant account of Mexican-origin youth incarcerated as 'feebleminded' in California’s Pacific Colony reveals the importance of disability consignment and institutional confinement in histories of reproductive oppression—and of resistance. We still live in a laboratory of deficiency. This book is an urgently needed guide to shutting that lab down."—Susan Schweik, author of The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public
Natalie Lira is Assistant Professor of Latina/Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.