A Threat to the Nation: Migrant Farmworkers, Public Health, and U.S. Medical Racialization during the New Deal

The government's role in perpetuating biased views that maintained cultural, racial, and moral reasoning for migrants’ susceptibility to disease, had a great cost to migrants’ condition beyond their physical state. For African and Mexican Americans, especially, such narratives compromised their fight for civil rights because they subjected them to common discourses of degeneracy, dependency, and docility that were deeply racialized. Such narratives challenged migrants’ efforts to navigate their personhood and political power.

Lecture Description

Beginning in 1938, the U.S. Farm Security Administration (FSA) launched one of the largest, most far-reaching experiments in health care delivery ever undertaken by the federal government when it established various state-based Agricultural Workers Health Associations (AWHA). Through these associations, the FSA provided farmworker families critical aid to combat the alarming rates of disease, malnourishment, infant mortality, and poverty that plagued their lives. In an unprecedented manner, the FSA’s health plans brought national attention to the seriousness of migrants’ health conditions and supported farmworkers’ claims about their inability to receive medical care. In the process of conducting this promising effort, however, the FSA’s medical program also reflected and deepened problematic cultural biases that further exploited and racialized rural poor people. This talk examines the tension between U.S. public health care and medical racialization, particularly as it intersected with migrants’ civil rights.


Agricultural Medicine

ALL TOPICS & TITLES: Go back to all topics and titles.

Verónica Martínez-Matsuda

VIEW SPEAKER : Verónica Martínez-Matsuda

More Distinguished Lectureship Program Resources