Ah the postwar boom. America’s Golden Era . . .
Several years ago I learned that the United States government carried out a program of forced sterilization on Puerto Rican women during the post-World War II era. Initially, I was shocked and appalled. Why would the government of Puerto Rico with the support of the U.S. government force sterilization on women?
The primary motivation behind this was eugenic. Puerto Rico was overpopulated (it still is) and birth rates were high. The government couldn’t get people to emigrate fast enough and Uncle Sam was worried about another few million people in one of its colonies. Basically what happened is what happens in China today: poor women were tricked or coerced into having abortions or being sterilized. Sometimes it was the only family planning option offered. At others there was no consent.
This came crashing down to me about fifteen minutes ago when I got a call from my father. My grandmother, his mother, died about a year ago. My father had always been very close to her and so, when she died, he took some of her personal effects, mostly letters, back to California with him from New York. He was nearly in tears and bitterness clung to every word. He skipped pleasantries and simply began speaking.
“Sometimes” he said “I am so pissed off at what the government has done.”
I was rather confused and asked him what he meant.
In a mere five minutes he related to me the following. By 1949 or 1950 my grandparents had three children: my father and his two brothers, one older, one younger. Around this time my grandmother got pregnant again, this time with a girl. When she went in for a prenatal exam, she was either forced or deceived into taking medication that would induce abortion. Apparently three children was enough. My grandfather found out about this and was quite understandably pissed. They were offered $200 to sign a waiver form and shut up. At the time he earned about $5 a day, so $200 was what he earned in a couple of months. They signed and took the money.
This wouldn’t have come off quite so bad in my mind if I didn’t know anything about history or them personally I suppose, but I do. Up until 1951, all education, and likely all official documentation was in English. I have no idea how much (or I should say little) education my grandparents had, but I would guess that sixth grade might be pushing the envelope. Even in their twilight, when they had been living in the United States for fifty years, they never spoke more than relatively basic English. I would rate it around that of a ten year old. In all likelihood it means they signed a piece of paper that said fuckall as far as they were concerned and got $200 to not talk about it.
My grandfather had served in World War II in the Pacific and returned to a country that didn’t really want him because he was Puerto Rican. Apparently they didn’t want his children either. He never got the GI Bill. He never owned a home. In fact, he lived his entire life in poverty. The government not only screwed him on benefits, it deprived him of the right to have a child because he happened to speak the wrong language, be poor, and be Puerto Rican.
But hey, don’t get me wrong. The government has screwed lots of other people in the same way, mostly poor minorities. So Tom, Ragnar. You can tell me all you want about how great America was when you were kids. I still call bullshit.