Esperanza went to her doctor at the end of July to ask about birth control. She and her husband already have two children and do not want to have another just yet. He works in the cafeteria at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. The job is steady, but it doesn’t pay a great deal and it is a struggle to pay the bills and keep a roof over their four heads.
The doctor, a private practitioner, didn’t spend too much time talking about temporary birth control methods. He just suggested that sterilization would be the answer to Esperanza’s prayers. What he didn’t tell her was that it was permanent. He said that if he tied her fallopian tubes, they would simply come untied after five years and she would be able to have children again.
That all sounded good to the young Puerto Rican woman. She hoped for a more prosperous future and, after all, lots of women she knew had already had Ia operación – they call it la operación, the operation, because it is so common. So Esperanza agreed to become operada. Two weeks after she was sterilized, Esperanza learned the truth.
‘It happens all the time,’ says Dr Joseph Millerick, head of the obstetrics and gynaecology department at Hartford Hospital. ‘It’s not as bad as ten years ago. But Puerto Rican women who were sterilized in Puerto Rico still often want to have the operation reversed. They believe reversal is simple.’ But reversal operations, which are rarely successful, cost thousands of dollars – beyond the reach of the vast majority of women who want them.
In 1968 35.3 per cent of all Puerto Rican women of child-bearing age had been sterilized, many without fully understanding the finality of the operation, many others without their knowledge at all.
But freedom of choice is a relative thing for all women – and for Puerto Rican women that freedom is further conditioned by their history as a people colonized by the US. Sterilization was made legal in Puerto Rico in 1937, when the eugenic movement in the US was in full swing. Mass migration of Puerto Ricans to the mainland in the I940s, sparked by the new jobs in the burgeoning factories and plantations, caused a backlash among American whites who feared this influx of ethnically and often racially different people. By the 1950s, population control had become a burning issue and Puerto Rico was used as a laboratory for some of the first scientific experiments in birth control (the pill was field-tested there for the first time in the late 1950s). In the early 1960s the US began funneling funds to Puerto Rican clinics and eventually sterilization, alongside strict migration controls, became twin pillars of a wide-ranging US policy to control the Puerto Rican population. So successful was the approach that the growth rate of the Puerto Rican population fell from 2.7 per cent in the 1950s to 1.7 in 1980.
reference:Fuentes, Annette. 1987. ”They call it la operación.” New Internationalist, issue 176 – October 1987. <http://www.newint.org/issue176/call.htm> accessed November 19, 2007.
~ by Serena on November 19, 2007.