Top critical review
Great Topic, Glaring Omissions, Unclear references
Reviewed in the United States on March 13, 2009
Molina has picked a worthy topic for exploration. However, failing to establish a clear methodology for historical investigation, and through systemically flawed citation, Molina undermines her own arguments and weakens her own credibility. The most immediately glaring error is her utter omission to mention, not even once, the greatest public health crisis in the US in the period on which she writes: The Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918. Why Molina fails to mention this becomes may be explained in the context of agenda-driven research which conveniently ignores that which does not fit her model. But, leaving that aside, let me point out fundamental problems in her approach.
One of her most unfortunate habits is her use of decontextualized "quoted phrases". She puts phrases in quotes but leaves the reader uncertain as to whether such constructions are her own, references to common knowledge of the period, or excerpted bits from the most recent (or upcoming) citation: "heathen Chinaman" (23); "real Americans" (30); [Mexicans] "required constant supervision" (74); "Oriental rats" (82); etc. By the time Molina arrives at the devastatingly incriminating evidence of brutally segregated divisions in the health care system, her use of these decontextualized statements becomes unnecessarily suspect: "In their directory of clinics, health officials classified Maravilla [clinic] as for `Mexicans only.'" (90). The citation she then gives is not to a directory but to the 1925 county health department annual report, leaving us to wonder to what degree the "Mexicans only" designation was explicit, enforced or even conceptualized. On the subsequent page (91), she quotes the phrase "yellow peril" but, instead of demonstrating with a full quotation, tells us that the phrase is being used to include Mexicans as well as Japanese. Use of the full quotation, fully contextualized so that the term "yellow peril" could be clearly seen to be applied to Mexicans, could open up an interesting discussion of color terminology in racialized rhetoric (Mexicans as "yellow"). Yet, while she returns to color in her discussion of "brown peril" (129) she never examines how "yellow" terminology was applied to Mexicans (if ever it was).
Molina makes frequent assertions without reference or citation: "both [Lummis and Kinney] were strong believers in the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race" (19); "[Public health officials concluded that] Chinese people would always be disease carriers" (26); "Like most white Americans, Californians presumed that the Mexican presence in the United States would be completely erased in due time" (44); "Writers warned the public of the `almond eyed stork'" (107). Adequate citations are lacking. When she claims (without citation) that "In actuality, California public schools were segregated until 1947" (132) she is implying that segregated schools were the norm. In actuality, various approaches were taken towards school segregation in California in the early 1900's; not all schools were segregated. Her claim is misleading as it implies all schools, not "some" or even "most" schools. She supplies no statistical data on this.
Molina is often vague and unnecessarily unclear: In her discussion of the photo on the cover of the 1916 Board of Health Bulletin, Molina makes the assertion that this portrayal "resonated with then-current negative stereotypes" (69); she goes on to imply (show?) the pejorative nature of the caption of the photo. Oddly, she phrased this ambiguously: "Captions such as, `The type of people who are bringing typhus and other diseases into California from Mexico' made certain that not even the most naïve of readers could miss the point." (70) Was that the caption for that photo? But why not either show the whole front cover of the work or simply state that it is the photo's caption? Complex constructions and passive voice dull the clarity of her argument. In her discussion of Pomeroy's alleged fear of Japanese births outstripping "white" births (indicated by his personal notations for a speech), she alleges that his "personal prejudice... soon evolved into standard department policy." (110, emphasis mine) Does she mean to imply that the placement of markers on end-of the year reports to indicate where Japanese birth rates surpassed "white" birth rates was incorporated as a standard operating procedure from then on? Molina allows this ambiguity to corrode her scholarship but fuel her thesis (on public health racialization of immigrants).
Molina cites issues which are "debated" (20, 24) but often omits multiple sides of the debates: her presentation of the hostile arguments used against the Chinese Laundries provides an example of racial injustice, yet she presents no counter-narrative of victory for racial equality (35 - 43). At times Molina has recourse to valuable data but does not use it: in her discussion of anti-immigration legislation proposed by Texas representative John C. Box, she fails to note how California representatives voted on the unsuccessful legislation (118 - 119). The odious and bigoted proposals of deportation and slum clearance (175 - 178) are a superb reminder of the racism endemic in Los Angeles politics in the early 20th century. Sadly, Molina's history of polar oppositions undermines what could be a more effective and more interesting look at the interplay between motivations among groups for and against deportations.
Molina ignores "striations within" the communities she addresses. While she occasionally adopts the filter of gender to examine data, she generally ignores the role of socio-economic class altogether. She claims that policies by the health officials were based primarily on race, but does not set up middle-class Mexican examples to show the divisions moved beyond class issues. "The programs instituted by the Los Angeles city and county public health departments were deeply racialized. Based on unacknowledged racial norms, the programs resulted in unequal health care for groups at the lower end of the racial hierarchy." (76) Molina acknowledges the economic liabilities which afflict the immigrant groups: "Mexicans tended to concentrate in unskilled occupations" (79), yet never attributes the actions taken against them to socio-economic factors. Aside from a few references to Dust Bowl immigrants (162 ff.), Molina rarely comparatively examines the way in which other poor groups (poor whites, poor blacks, poor targets of "yellow peril" rhetoric) were addressed by health officials.
Her treatment of African-Americans is negligent at best. They seem to be utterly overlooked in claims such as this: "During the 1920's, the Japanese continued to be the second-largest racialized group in Los Angeles County." (106). Given her own statistical chart (Table 1, page 6) this sentence only makes sense if either "Negroes--Blacks--African-Americans" or "Foreign-Born Mexicans" are not counted as a "racialized" group. I am not sure which group does not receive Molina's "racialized" status: Blacks - because they are not part of the categories involved in infant mortality data (93), or Mexicans - because they are foreign-born (see the chart definition). If it is the former (Blacks as not "racialized"), this is a glaring oversight. If it is the latter (Mexicans as foreign-born) there is a problematic conflation of "race" and "nationality" in her work. In Table 2 (92), a county table labeled (by Molina) "Births by Nationality" separates "Black" out as a national category. No "Black" births are recorded for the years 1915 - 1920, yet Table 1 (7) indicates a county Negro population of 9,424 in 1910 and 18,738 in 1920 (each of which is roughly the same size as the reported Japanese population (8,461 and 19,911). Molina fails to explain the seemingly ambiguous and/or contradictory way in which the terms "race" and "nationality" are being used in either her sources or her own text. When she discusses media coverage of the 1924 bubonic plague outbreak, she gives the summary of fatalities: "All but two ... of the deceased were Mexican." (88) Is this a racial designation or a national one? Molina treats the two concepts interchangeably.
She uses loaded diction combined with mass stereotyping, "To whites, it looked, as one writer lamented, `as if all Mexico were moving to Belvedere.'" (82). She goes on to impose ideas on her subjects without finding adequate grounding in texts or practices. In her discussion of language-barrier problems involved in the establishment of WBC's (Well-Baby Clinics), she makes the rather broad assertion that, "In sum, the underlying impetus for the WBC's was the belief that Mexicans were inferior to whites ..." (99) a sleight of hand which equates cultural elitism with racism. While the two may be related, they can also be quite distinct. She does not cite materials from the WBC's which claim Mexicans, as people or as a people, are inferior to whites (though that material may exist, she fails to bring it forward). Molina thus does a grave disservice to what could otherwise be an illuminating exploration of the relationships between medicalization, racialization, and power.