Living Laboratories: Remapping the Legacy of Experiments in Empire

Spring 2013
  • Graduate
Tala Khanmalek
Ethnic Studies
Living Laboratories: Remapping the Legacy of Experiments in Empire

 My grant project is a continuation of ongoing research for the third chapter of my dissertation on the medical inspection of immigrants by the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) at Angel Island during the Chinese exclusion era (1882-1943). In the early twentieth century, San Francisco was the main Pacific gateway into the nation. Often referred to as the “Ellis Island of the West,” Angel Island was one of two seaports of entry at which discriminatory immigration policies were enacted through a wide range of practices. However, the Angel Island Immigration Station was characterized by the mass detainment and deportation of Asian immigrants in particular. While race became a determining factor of citizenship with the Chinese Exclusion Act, “loathsome and contagious diseases” were also legal causes of exclusion. In Chapter 3, I am interested in how medical inspection was leveraged to regulate immigration and as such, conflated excludable diseases with other legal classifications of difference like race, class, gender, sexuality and ability. I argue that medical or “line” inspection was the Federal law’s most effective regulatory mechanism precisely because it mobilized discourses of health to inscribe difference into the bodies of individual immigrantsand onto populations of “others.”