Film Exposes Sterilization of Immigrant Mothers

By Diana Johnson - On February 7, 2017, the Women and Gender in the World research cluster hosted a screening of a documentary film entitled No Más Bebés (No More Babies). Following the screening, producer Virginia Espino and film consultant Elena Gutierrez shared their insights and fielded questions.

Produced in 2015, No Más Bebés has won awards from the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians. It chronicles the forced sterilization of Mexican immigrant mothers in the Los Angeles County Hospital during the 1970s. Exposing an ignored and erased history, the film represents the culmination of years of academic research, investigations, and interviews. Testimony from the survivors and their family members illuminate the importance of transferring such vital stories to a public audience.

The film drew undergraduates, graduate students, and members of the Davis community at large to the packed, 250-seat theatre. After the screening, Virginia Espino and Elena Gutierrez took questions from the audience for almost an hour. Espino and Gutierrez explained their methodologies, the sensitivity required to conduct the research, and the emotional effect of the filmmaking process itself. They shared their perspectives on the importance of the film in today’s political climate.

No Más Bebés demands a nuanced exploration of the racial politics of forced sterilization. The film refuses to shy away from the deep-seated racial stereotypes of Latina women in examining how Mexican immigrant mothers became targets of forced sterilizations. Audience members likened the women’s experiences to those of black women in the American South. Some recounted a personal relationship to such histories, explaining how forced sterilization had reached their own families.

Others connected the film to the present day, sparking a conversation around current sterilization practices in women’s prisons. The potential impact of public history was revealed as the audience discussed the power of the documentary in undoing such practices.

The screening of No Más Bebés was part of a larger effort to uncover and shed light upon the history of reproductive justice. The Women and Gender in the World DHI Cluster encourages those interested in future events to join the Women’s and Gender History Facebook page to stay connected.