Story at a glance
- Black, Indigenous and Latino communities, like many communities of color, have historically been abused by the medical community.
- In California, thousands of Latinos were sterilized without informed consent in the 1900s.
- Due to the mistrust, many of the country’s most vulnerable populations are hesitant to be vaccinated.
Hispanic Americans are among the most vulnerable populations to COVID-19, both medically and economically, but in the first few months since vaccines became available, they’re getting inoculated at lower rates than white Americans.
In a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation from Jan. 11 to 18, 6 out of 10 “Black and Hispanic adults say they do not have enough information about where to get the vaccine, compared to about half of White adults who say the same,” according to a press release. A demographic analysis released in February by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that Black and Hispanic Americans are underrepresented among vaccinated Americans.
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But access to health care is only part of the picture. The other part is a history of abuse at the hands of the scientific and medical communities that has led to a deep mistrust among communities of color. For many Latino Americans, especially the more than 15 million living in California, the state’s ugly history of eugenics is just one generation removed — although it was a generation lost.
“That’s something that they remember, which affects their judgment in getting the vaccination. They’re like, ‘Well, how can I trust?’” Angelina Zayas, a pastor at Grace and Peace Community Church, told USA Today.
Under U.S. eugenics programs, research shows that about 60,000 people were sterilized, roughly one-third of which happened in California. Between 1920 and 1945, a disproportionate number of these patients, many of whom were sterilized without informed consent, were Latinos and Latinas.
“Eugenic thinking inscribed ‘scientific’ legitimacy to racial stereotypes of Latinas/os as inferior and unfit to reproduce. In California, eugenics programs were linked to efforts to reduce immigration, particularly from Mexico, during a time when growing anti-Mexican sentiment manifested in school segregation and racial housing covenants,” said researchers in a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. “Mexican American women and adolescents were particularly stereotyped as ‘hyperfertile,’ inadequate mothers, criminally inclined, and more prone to feeblemindedness.”
In 2018, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors issued an apology for the coerced sterilizations of more than 200 women who delivered babies at LA County+USC Medical Center between 1968-74 — but the damage was already done.
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