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Racialized Contagion: Japanese American Tuberculosis Patients during WWII

November 30 @ 12:00 pm - 1:15 pm

CHAT Fellow Seminar with Courtney Sato (Assistant Professor, Studies in Race, Democracy and Colonialism)

Throughout World War II, tuberculosis loomed large as an imminent public health threat. The risk was especially dire for the 120,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry forcibly confined to inland War Relocation Authority camps as tuberculosis was the third-leading cause of death for incarcerees. Overcrowded living quarters, menial and nutritionally deficient diets, and the arid desert climate fostered the conditions for respiratory diseases. Of these respiratory illnesses, tuberculosis was the most pervasive and most feared by public health officials and Japanese incarcerees alike.

This presentation examines Hillcrest Sanitarium and Maryknoll Rest Home (both in California), which treated Japanese American tuberculosis patients in guarded and patrolled facilities. With the tuberculosis sanatorium as a framework, I examine the ways in which biomedical management and penal systems overlapped. Sanatoria, I argue, embodied a heterotopic space that fused myriad traditions and meanings of segregation and institutionalization that were simultaneously therapeutic, penal, preventative, and educative. The presentation also examines TB patients like the artist Edo Mita, who straddled a fine line between patient and prisoner, and those who cared for the patients. Historicizing tuberculosis offers myriad connections to current COVID-19 discourse surrounding racialization, containment, and contagion.


November 30
12:00 pm - 1:15 pm


Center for the Humanities


48 Professors Row, Medford MA
48 Professors Row
Medford, MA 02155 United States
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