I first learned about the history of forced sterilizations through the 2015 documentary, No Más Bebes, produced by Virginia Espino and Renee Tajima-Pena. No Más Bebes provided me with the opportunity to listen deeply and learn from the survivors themselves. Hearing how the mothers internalized their pain, trauma, and suffering was heartbreaking. Without this impactful documentary, the voices and stories of the mothers would probably have been forgotten.
Justice for the mothers could not have been possible without Dr. Bernard Rosenfeld, a young resident at LAC + USC during the early 1970s who uncovered that Mexican immigrant women were being sterilized by tubal ligation without informed consent. Dr. Rosenfeld gave boxes of files to a young Latina lawyer, Antonia Hernandez, and alongside lead lawyer, Charles Nabarrete, the activist group Comision Femenil led by Gloria Molina, and community activist leaders like Patricia Vellanoweth, they filed a class action lawsuit, now known as the Madrigal vs. Quilligan case, to seek justice for the survivors.
The name of the artwork is Sobrevivir, which means to survive, to keep alive. The spirit of sobrevivir is rooted in the very words of the mothers, and I want the artwork to include the perspectives and expressions of the survivors. On the wall that surrounds the public artwork are the actual words of the mothers in metal. Metal is prominent throughout the artwork to symbolize the mothers' strength and resilience. Many of the mothers relied on devotion and prayer to cope and heal. So, central to the artwork are the hands of the Guadalupe, who in many ways is a powerful representation of Los Angeles.
- Phung Huynh
In 2018, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors issued a public apology to more than 200 mothers of Mexican descent who were forcefully sterilized at the Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center between 1968 - 1974. To publicly express this apology, the LA County Department of Arts and Culture commissioned Phung Huynh to create a permanent outdoor sculpture honoring the resilience of the survivors and to remember the histories of women whose narratives have been historically repressed. The name of the artwork is Sobrevivir, which translates to survive, to keep alive.
This is a haunting story, and dark histories will continue to haunt unless we do something about them. We need to respectfully acknowledge and honor the survivors, and we also need to begin the process of atonement and healing.
- Phung Huynh
For the Coerced Sterilization Recognition project at LAC + USC Medical Center, artist Phung Huynh engaged with community members to create four quilts. The quilts represent a collective approach to healing through art and acknowledges and pays tribute to the survivors.
Contributors include: Helen Adair, Cecilia Aguilar, Blanca Anderson, June Aoki, Armando W.M. Argandona, Norma Barcena, Olivia Beas, Linda Beaver, Yolanda Padilla Barela, Yolie Barrozo, Esmeralda Bobadilla, Marie Cantor, Melinda Cardona, Laura Ayala Clark, Magda Contreras, Jane Tenorio Coscarelli, Claudia Espinoza, Que Dang, Gloria Flores, Laura Fraga, Lucia Vigil Francis, Maria Franco, Mercedes Garcia, Pat Gomez, Maria Concepcion Gutierrez de Martin, Yvette Leon, Charlotte Lerchenmuller, Patricia Ann Lopez, Guadalupe Macias, Juana Mena, Gloria Molina, Maria Morales, Gina Obsenares, Betty Marina Palomino, Cecilia Provencio, Maria Reza, Diana Rivas, Olivia Rodriquez, Ellena Ruiz, Madeline Sherman, Sharon Swonger, Sergio Teran, Ana Trujillo, Yolanda Villegas, Stefani Williams, Tru Williams-Pierone, Joanna Zambrano, Evelyn Martinez Zapata
Sobrevivir, public artwork at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center, corten steel and LED lighting, 22 feet in diameter, 2021
Commissioned by the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture. Photographs by Steven Lam.
Part of the art project included public engagement activities where I invited participants to provide feedback on my designs and to create community quilts. Those who participated included community members, students, mothers, activists, women who gave birth at the hospital, and women who were part of Comision Femenil.
- Phung Huynh
I did not want to drastically disrupt the existing space and decided to keep the original circular form but removed the labyrinth stones that were replaced with a circular floor artwork made of corten steel. The idea is to create an impactful artwork that would invite viewers to learn about the mothers and deeply connect with their experiences. The austere physicality of metal is complemented by the effects of light. The artwork illuminates at night, similar to the subtle, spotted golden glow of candle light, to enhance the feeling of a contemplative yet powerful space.
- Phung Huynh
Carolina Miranda, “A new monument at L.A.’s county hospital marks a dark history of coerced sterilization,” L.A. Times, August 6, 2022
Carren Jao, “Beautiful Strength: ‘Sobrevivir’ Pays Homage to the Women Coerced to Sterilization in 1960s and ‘70s L.A.,” KCET, July 19, 2022
Steve Scauzillo, “Somber artwork unveiled at LAC + USC Medical Center, an apology for coerced sterilization in 1968 – 1974,” Los Angeles Daily News, July 11, 2022
Anabel Munoz, “’Sobrevivir’ Art Installation Recognizes Past Coerced Sterilizations at LAC + USC Medical Center,” ABC News, July 12, 2022
Gitanjali Mahapatra and Nate Perez, “LA County-USC Medical Center Unveils Artwork Apologizing to Women Forcibly Sterilized There,” LAist and NPR, July 12, 2022
NBC 4 News, “Saying Sorry for Past History of Coerced Sterilizations,” July 12, 2022