From Exclusion to Expulsion: Mexicans and Tuberculosis in Los Angeles, 1914-1940

Even before the influx of Mexicans, public health officials in Los Angeles constructed very sick and very poor tubercular people as an illegitimate presence who not only endangered others but also represented weakness and failure and imposed intolerable economic burdens. The identification of tuberculosis with Mexicans during the 1920s hardened the perception that they did not belong in Los Angeles. Because Mexicans lived and worked in dangerous surroundings, it is likely that they bore a very high burden of tuberculosis. Contemporary statistics, however, tell us less about the prevalence of disease than about the attitudes of health officials. Most were convinced that Mexicans had an innate susceptibility to tuberculosis. Concerns about the cost of supporting tubercular Mexicans figured prominently in efforts to restrict their immigration in the 1920s, and in the deportation and repatriation drives of the 1930s.