Sugar, Shame, Love: Diabetes, Latinx Literature, and Health Justice

This talk examines health status as a technology for the regulation of national belonging alongside Latinx visions of health justice. Public debate about health care access (particularly since the passage of the Affordable Care Act) reveals underlying assumptions about who deserves health (and who does not). To be perceived as deserving health requires caring for one’s body according to precise social norms: avoiding controlled substances, eating a healthy diet, refusing high-risk sex practices, and exercising often. Meanwhile, those seen as undeserving often experience bodily conditions, believed to result solely from personal choices, that have a disproportionately adverse effect in communities of color: obesity, asthma, diabetes, sexually-transmitted infections, addiction, high-risk or stigmatized pregnancies, mental illness, and some cancers and neurological differences. Using representations of diabetes as a case study, this talk explores how Latinx expressive culture reveals the factors beyond individual control – access to nutritious food, medical care and information, clean air and water, and cultural representations portraying one’s life as valuable – that affect physical and mental well-being. It argues that Latina/o/x cultural workers debunk the myth that health is a matter of individual behavior, expose how the valorization of personal choice shifts financial responsibility for health care onto people with disabling impairments, and depict racialized health disparities as a form of second-class citizenship. Most importantly, their work demonstrates why health cannot be reduced to questions of individual choice, envisioning a more just distribution of health care and challenging dominant perceptions about the relationship between health and national belonging.

Julie Avril Minich
Associate Professor in the Departments of English and Mexican American & Latina/o Studies at the University of Texas at Austin whose work focuses on Latinx literary and cultural studies, disability studies, and gender studies