The Borders of AIDS and the Uses of Disease

October 5, 2023

Karma Chávez
Karma Chávez

Health Humanities Speaker Series

Start time: 4:00 p.m.

End time: 6:00 p.m

Location: Commons Theater (907 Floyd Ave)

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In this session, Karma Chávez will explore the ways that HIV/AIDS became a justification to erect national and cultural borders during the early years of the pandemic, and connect lessons learned from the AIDS crisis to contemporary manifestations in the times of COVID-19. Reception and networking event to follow.

As soon as US media and politicians became aware of AIDS in the early 1980s, fingers were pointed not only at the gay community but also at other countries and migrant communities, particularly Haitians, as responsible for spreading the virus. Evangelical leaders, public health officials, and the Reagan administration quickly capitalized on widespread fear of the new disease to call for quarantines, immigration bans, and deportations, scapegoating and blaming HIV-positive migrants—even as the rest of the world regarded the US as the primary exporter of the virus.

In The Borders of AIDS, Chávez demonstrates how such calls proliferated and how failure to impose a quarantine for HIV-positive citizens morphed into the successful enactment of a complete ban on the regularization of HIV-positive migrants—which lasted more than twenty years. News reports, congressional records, and AIDS activist archives reveal how queer groups and migrant communities built fragile coalitions to fight against the alienation of themselves and others, asserting their capacity for resistance and resiliency. Building on existing histories of HIV/AIDS, public health, citizenship, and immigration, Chávez establishes how politicians and public health officials treated different communities with HIV/AIDS and highlights the work these communities did to resist alienation.

This event is co-sponsored by the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies.


Book cover: The Borders of AIDS

About the Speaker

Karma R. Chávez, Ph.D. is Bobby and Sherri Patton Professor of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies and Department Chair at UT Austin. She is co-editor of Text + Field: Innovations in Rhetorical Method (Penn State Press, 2016) and Standing in the Intersection: Feminist Voices, Feminist Practices in Communication Studies (SUNY Press, 2012). She is author of The Borders of AIDS: Race, Quarantine, and Resistance  (University of Washington Press, 2021) and Queer Migration Politics: Activist Rhetoric and Coalitional Possibilities (University of Illinois Press, 2013) and Palestine on the Air (University of Illinois Press, 2019). Karma is also a member of the radical queer collective Against Equality, and a former organizer for LGBT Books to Prisoners. For years, Karma has worked closely with several community organizations on issues surrounding queer, racial, economic and immigrant justice.

Chávez is a regular host of two UT podcasts, the Latino Studies podcast, LatinXperts and LGBTQ Studies podcast, Audio QT. You can also hear her occasionally hosting A Public Affair on Madison, Wisconsin's community radio station, WORT-FM.