Generating Discussion: “Alien” Sexuality: Race, Maternity, and Citizenship

In this article, Natalie Cisneros investigates the rhetoric of the “problematic of alien sexuality,” or the fear surrounding the procreation of people who do not have or are not perceived as having/deserving citizenship.  These anxieties are closely connected to discussions of children who are born to parents who may or may not be documented citizens during pregnancy and birth (in essence, ‘anchor babies’).  The birthright citizenship policy of the United States (those born within the US have automatic citizenship) complicates this discourse and brings into question which sort of bodies are perceived as producing citizens and which are not.  There is a long history of women being treated as the producers of the next generation of citizens rather than being recognized as citizens in their own right.

From this history emerges discussions of the perceived worth of women’s bodies as compared to the worth of fetuses (note: such rhetoric equates women with wombs and this is, of course, a cissexist perspective; at the same time, this gendering of reproduction is significant because it demonstrates how conceptualizations of women—regardless of childbearing capacity—have been, and continue to be, linked to sub-citizen roles by understanding them as a means to an end).  Women have increasingly been viewed as vessels for future citizens in political discourses, a shift that further pushes women towards this sub-citizen role while simultaneously emphasizing the importance of fetuses’ future citizenship. 

Cisneros explores the dilemma that arises when government groups are both fearful of ‘alien’ reproduction yet are also concerned about the wellbeing of the fetus (in such a discourse, classified as an unborn child), at least theoretically.  As the fetus becomes an increasingly visible figure in the US, mothers—especially mothers deemed alien—are increasingly erased.  Even the prevalence of the term ‘anchor baby’ in discussions of citizenship, access to services, etc. emphasizes the fetus and erases the mother.

The figure of the alien mother upsets the concept of ‘virtuous motherhood’ because she is not perceived as fitting the idealized mother’s image as an honorable site of nation building.  Cisneros notes that while the fetus represents a nationless tabula rasa of sorts, immigrant mothers are viewed as fundamentally outside the charmed position of citizen.  Here, positive and negative eugenics come in to play, or the idea that some bodies are encouraged/obliged to reproduce while others are discouraged/prevented from reproducing, respectively.  Which bodies are perceived as producing desirable citizens, or citizens at all?  In light of these ideas about ‘healthy’ reproduction, how are alien mothers doubly regulated?

            Early on in the article, Cisneros describes the ‘alien’ subject as “always-already” racialized and classed, and therefore automatically with a history that positions such sexuality as other, undesirable, and threatening.  I found the phrase “always-already” to be especially perceptive.  How does this “always-already” process of thinking about alien mothers keep them in the category of other?