Disease in the Body Politic
Contemporary immigrants who enter the United States to work or settle are assumed to bring with them habits of crime, laziness, and lack of hygiene. This chapter puts these modern rumor cycles into historical perspective by examining ways in which these beliefs are based on earlier stereotypes generated by previous immigration waves. They often blamed foreigners for introducing diseases such as leprosy and typhoid fever to the country, just as Mexicans were blamed for the new swine flu epidemic. The literal illness, then as now, symbolized a more subtle threat to the body politic: a new population marked by immorality, sexual promiscuity, and political disloyalty. Particularly, foreigners serve as scapegoats after catastrophes such as fires or floods. Rumor contributed to the creation of an increasingly restrictive immigration policy in the United States, and continues to generate an atmosphere of distrust against newcomers.
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