The Mule

In 2004, the role of women as mules entered the popular imagination with the release of the film Maria Full of Grace that depicts the life of a young Colombian woman who swallows cocaine and smuggles it into the United States  She passes through the port of entry at New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport, the present day Ellis Island.  In the film,  Maria works in one of Colombia’s other leading industries, flower export.   She resorts to working as a cocaine mule due to her precarious economic situation when she loses her job.  Young, unemployed, and pregnant,  she enters into the trade seeking to improve her life. Instead she encounters difficulties.

Directed by Joshua Marston, 2004.

The case of “Maria” is not unusual in considering the work of contemporary anthropologists and criminologists who study drug trafficking.  Maria Full of Grace gained recognition because it placed women into an alleged masculine world.  Maria is instrumental to transnational flows of products whether of legal carnations or illegal cocaine.  The protagonist Maria was not the stereotypical feminine image of films in the drug genre. Women of this melodramatic imagination play sultry sirens to drug lords, junkies in search of  fixes, or whores who turn tricks in the freak houses.

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The Women of Narco B-Movies

Roosevelt Avenue in Corona, Queens is known for its money-sending “chops,” gold and silver vendors, ethnic markets, and great Argentine, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Mexican, and Peruvian restaurants, all conveniently tucked under the 7 trains.  The doorway I sought led up a stairwell that advertised the store’s music offerings: cumbia, bachata, grupera, salsa, and the standards of rock and pop. Among the music CDs, one can find hip-hop clothing and narco B movies. The bleary-eyed attendant grew suspicious when I asked for all his narco films with female protagonists.  I bought my first narco-chick action flick, Rosario Tijeras, a couple of days after its Latin American release from a street vendor two blocks from this store.  I felt sure that the number of female protagonist B-films had grown with the release of La colombiana and Miss Bala.  These films are for the foreign and elite movie going public; the B-movies are for everyone else.

Gerardo Naranjo, 2011

Long before more accomplished filmmakers entered the narco market, narco B-movies documented Mexico’s role in the drug trade since the 1970s.   These low-budget action films have fairly simple story lines,  and often the same actors appear regardless of production company.  The narratives depict the realities of the drug trade in Northern Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexico border.  Many of the screenwriters base the films on narco-corridos, ballads about the drug trade, while others create stories from the news headlines.  In the narco Bs, drug traffickers are social bandits who struggle against each other, corrupt police officers, and government officials.  Until recently, women have played marginal roles as lovers, mothers, or daughters.

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Freaky Friday: Gloria Anzaldúa’s Alien Nation: Queering Altered States

Editor’s note: Today’s Freaky Friday brings us again to the psychedelic borderlands, where University of Florida Professor of Women’s Studies and English Tace Hedrick talks about the mushroom trips of Gloria Anzaldúa– and their connections to her queer mestiza cosmology.

Gloria Anzaldúa,1942-2004

Chicana lesbian feminist writer Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2004) is best known for her 1987 Borderlands/ la frontera: Towards a New Mestiza Consciousness, a text combining diary entries, essays, and poetry. It is a sometimes bilingual meditation on how to survive being mestiza (mixed-race European and indigenous), queer, feminist and New Age in a white supremacist patriarchal world. The text is something of a bible for post-Second Wave feminists, yet as radical as it is, in her interviews Anzaldúa was even more open about how her sexuality and her New Age consciousness worked in concert with her indigenous heritage. Anzaldúa felt herself to be intensely “alien,” and that term was more than a metaphor for her, as she notes in Interviews/Entrevistas:

We only want to know the consciousness part of ourselves because we don’t want to think that there’s this alien being in the middle of our psyche….The movie Alien affected me greatly because I really identified with it….My sympathies were…with the alien. I think that’s how the soul is: it’s treated like an alien because we don’t know what it is (39-40).

In Borderlands and subsequent texts, Anzaldúa connected queers with indigenous souls and mestiza bodies—and linked all three to the figure of the alien and the metaphor of alienation. She gave a central place in this framework to the healing force of the (seemingly inherent) spirituality of indigenous peoples—a spirituality that she acknowledged was sometimes linked to the consumption of psychoactive plants.

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Freaky Friday: Exploring the “Secrets Mushroomic”: R. Gordon Wasson in Mexico

Editor’s Note: Today’s Freaky Friday brings Points readers the insights of Tace Hedrick, Associate Professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of Florida and a specialist in 20th-century Latin American literature and culture.  Having written previously on Mestizo Modernisms, Hedrick is now at work on a study of national and cosmic identity discourse across the Latin American and Latino Americas diaspora.  Her meditation on the mid-20th century Mexican mushroom vogue is drawn from that project, whose working title is Queering the Cosmic Race: Gloria Anzaldúa, Ana Mendieta, and Walter Mercado, 1968-2010.  She will return in a few weeks to discuss the psychedelic journeys of Gloria Anzaldúa.

Plants of the Gods, 1979

Most people do not think of the middle of the 20th century—the super square 1950s—as a time when indigenous drug rituals and experiments with psychoactive plants were topics of popular interest for the average Joes and Janes (or Ozzies and Harriets) of the United States.  In Mexico, however, traditional rituals with psychoactive plants had been a sometimes intense focus of interest (for Mexicans and people from the United States alike) since the post-armed phase of the Revolution, beginning in the 1920s, and in the U.S. the 1950s brought a resurgence in the popularity of earlier texts about indigenous drug use. Among these were Carl Lumholtz’s 1902 Unknown Mexico, which detailed Mexican Huichol peyote rituals, and Robert Zingg’s 1938 writing on Huichol artwork, commonly assumed to be psychedelic because of their religious use of peyote.  Also during the 1930s, Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes traveled with anthropologist and ethnobotanist Raoul Weston LaBarre throughout Oklahoma (not quite as exotic as Mexico) to study Plains Indians’ peyote use. Their disparate findings, published in 1938, were among the texts revived first in the 1950s and again in the ’70s:  LaBarre’s The Peyote Cult sought to psychologize the indigenous use of peyote visions, while Schultes’ “The Appeal of Peyote [Lophophora Williamsii] as a Medicine” (published in American Anthropologist) argued that the substance’s value lay in its therapeutic and stimulating properties more than in its psychoactive ones.

Research performed in the 1930s and ‘40s, then, formed the basis of many of the bestselling ‘70s volumes on the indigenous roots of psychedelic culture. 

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Deep Background: Border History as Drugs History

Points readers who enjoyed Michelle Garcia’s post on the “Myths of Mexico” a couple of weeks ago may be interested in her new documentary short, “Against Mexico: the Making of Heroes and Enemies.” Presented by Latino Public Broadcasting and now available on PBS website, the twelve-minute film looks at the historical relationship between the US and Mexico going back to the 19th century.  Not sure you’ve got twelve minutes? Well, here’s the trailer:

Reasonable people (and maybe also a few readers who found Points while looking for more information on “The Stoned Ages”) may wonder what the hell this film is doing on a blog devoted to drugs and alcohol history.  I mean, it’s about international relations, immigration, culture wars, labor history, but come on– where are the drugs??  Well, guess what?  Drugs and alcohol history are not always about what The Wire so trenchantly refers to as “dope on the damn table.”

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Myths of Mexico: The U.S. Media’s Simplistic Depiction of the “Drug War”

Editor’s Note: Guest blogging at Points today is Michelle García, journalist, film maker, and the co-founder and director of the Border Mobile Journalism Collective, a citizen journalism video project on the U.S.-Mexico border created in collaboration with the National Black Programming Consortium.  She recently completed “Against Mexico— The Making of  Heroes and Enemies,” a documentary film for PBS (view the trailer here), and is at work on a book about masculinity and the U.S. Mexico border.  Her post today originally appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Biography of a "Bandit": Elliott Young's 2004 Study of Garza

IN 1891, MY GREAT-GREAT-UNCLE, CATARINO GARZA, ATTEMPTED TO OVERTHROW the Mexican dictator, Porfirio Díaz, by launching an armed revolution from my family’s south Texas ranch. One year into his campaign, Garza agreed to an interview with The New York Times to explain the reasons behind his insurrection. “The impression prevails that I and my followers are simply an organized band of border ruffians,” Garza told the reporter. “As nothing can be further from the truth, I rely on you to do me justice.”

Journalists of that era who covered the new and largely unknown southern territory drew heavily on U.S. military reports, which viewed Mexico through the prism of expansionism. The United States, eager to protect trade with Mexico and secure its new frontier, came to Diaz’s defense and deployed the Army, the Texas Rangers, and other law enforcement outfits to join Mexican federates in hunting Garza down. And on the front page of the Times, in keeping with the label assigned to Garza by the U.S. and Mexican governments, Garza was branded a “bandit.”

In Garza’s day, American press coverage of Mexico paid scant attention to the fledgling nation’s internal political dynamics or the views of its population at large. More than a century later, this remains too often true, as the story of Mexico in the U.S. press is mostly a one-dimensional account of the horrible “drug war.” I am no apologist for drug cartels, and I don’t place the revolutionaries of old on equal footing with drug kingpins. Rather, I detect enduring assumptions that govern our coverage of Mexico — what’s perceived as good for the U.S. is portrayed as good for Mexico. To wit, if the U.S. interest is clamping down on the supply of drugs reaching American streets and nightclubs, then calling out the military is a wise policy decision for Mexico. Such a simplistic calculus ignores the fact that narco-trafficking is a firmly entrenched and complex organism that exists for a range of economic, social, and political reasons.

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Doing Drug History from a Drug War Zone

A Student Murdered

One hot morning last May, the El Paso Times brought news that many of us had been dreading—a student from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) had been murdered in the drug-trade violence that has disrupted our neighbor city, Ciudad Juárez, for three years.  Like many UTEP students, Alejandro Ruiz, 18 years old, lived a binational life.  A dual citizen, he lived mostly in Juárez, but commuted to UTEP.  On that day last May he and a friend were traveling from a boy scout meeting when their vehicle was riddled with machine gun fire.  His murder, like almost all the killings (more than 3,000 in 2010 alone) remains unsolved and unexplained.  Although Mexican political leaders have tried to dismiss the dead as criminals and effectively erase their existence, one thing seems certain, Alejandro himself had no direct involvement in the drugs trade.  We are left only to speculate.

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