Reproducing the Nation: Invading Maternity, Race, Gender and Citizenship

Curator's Note

Contemporary representations of Chinese and Mexican women reproducing at alarming rates signal anxieties around racialized alien sexuality, unvirtuous mothers, as well as impure and infectious “anti-citizens.” As such, the fetus of “undocumented mothers” become symbolic of populations that have yet to merit 'the gift of freedom'/the gift of citizenship.

Asian American feminist scholar Mimi Nguyen has described 'the gift of freedom' as an assemblage of liberal political philosophies, regimes of representation, and structures of enforcement that measure and manufacture freedom and its others.  Nguyen’s theorization assists in assessing the systems that regulate which racialized populations merit freedom/citizenship; particularly methods of enforcement allowing for the surveillance of women and children considered racially undesirable within the nation—their devotion and love of the nation called into question long before their birth. 

The targeting of Mexican and Chinese women has long been the focus of Asian American and Chicana/Latina feminist scholars and bloggers engaged in producing a rebuttal that historicizes the legacy of colonization, the impact of 19th Century U.S. expansion, and discourses of deviant and unassimilable mothers and children. 

As such, blogger Jenn Fang has reminded readers on the Asian-American blog Reappropriate that,

Since Asian American women first set foot on American soil, we have been smeared with the presumption that we are a sexual and reproductive threat to America. Nearly a decade before the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese women were popularly decried as "undesirable" on the presumption that we were all diseased, morally bankrupt prostitutes who preyed on White men and their families. Using this anti-Asian sexism, we were barred from entry into America by the Page Act of 1875.

And, Nicole Guidotti-Hernández has long argued that the term “anchor baby” frames the Latina body as “uncontrollable” in its reproduction, and criminalizes women for having children.​

Chinese and Mexican women have historically been at the center of debates on denial of citizenship rights to Asian and Latinx children—whom in utero and as newborns have been framed as undeserving lawbreakers, unsuitable for citizenship. The representations used to convey that mothers and their babies are incapable of holding affection for the nation has in turn naturalized draconian policy measures that serve to socially engineer the national body.



Nguyen, Mimi Thi. The gift of freedom: War, debt, and other refugee passages. Duke University Press, 2012.

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