Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

Shades of the Borderland Narconovela from Pastel to Sanguine: Orfa Alarcon's Perra Brava as Anti-Novela

Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

Shades of the Borderland Narconovela from Pastel to Sanguine: Orfa Alarcon's Perra Brava as Anti-Novela

Article excerpt

The stereotypical image of the Latino gangster or criminal persists in all imaginable types of media. From portrayals in Hollywood films like Traffic to the enshrining of past criminals, real or fictional, such as Pablo Escobar or Tony Montana, in contemporary hip-hop lyrics, Latinos have long been mediated through these pop-culturally created illicit identities. By and large Latino men are characterized as machista and are "categorized as beings who are aggressive, oppressive, narcissistic, insecure, loud-mouthed, womanizers, massive drinkers, [and] persons who have an uncontrollable sexual prowess. "(1) As a result of the surge in violence caused by the Mexican drug war beginning in the first decade of the twenty-first century, combined with the infamous and abominable feminicides in Ciudad Juarez dating back at least to the early 1990s, the representation of the Latino/Mexican drug trafficker and otherwise violent perpetrator has experienced a fresh articulation in audiovisual and textual forms alike on both sides of the border and beyond. (2) The drug cartels' turf wars, the Calderon administration's anti-drug-trafficking offensive, and official corruption have contributed to a rich thematic that writers and producers from an array of artistic mediums draw from to add captivating drama and criminal intrigue to their works.

In many cases this new wave of cultural production inspired by drug trafficking and its associated evils is capitalizing on the allure of the female protagonist. Recent television programs like Weeds and La reina del sur, based on Arturo Perez-Reverte's novel of the same name, are prime examples of the portrayal of women in charge of their own drug-trafficking operations. It is also becoming clear that this advanced criminal network closely linked to the unlawful trafficking of illegal substances and a host of other illicit activities is commanding greater attention in a number of academic disciplines due to its seeming omnipresence and influence on popular culture. While creative and analytical depictions of drug-related violence and crime are nothing new, their reinvention and expression through the context of the current situation based in Mexico deserve a renewed and thorough examination.

In this essay I will engage these violent and drug-related themes through the exploration of Mexican narcoliterature as a subgenre, as well as through the analysis of a particular novel that inverts the image of the macho male trafficker in a narrative driven by a female protagonist immersed in northern Mexico's drug world. Through this brief introduction and textual analysis I will demonstrate how the subgenre of narcoliterature can be viewed as a positive category within Mexican letters to the extent that it unites a diverse and complex corpus through drug-related themes including--but of course not limited to--the emerging prominence of women in and affected by the drug trade.

Before investigating the concept of narcoliterature, it is essential to consider the drug war and the US-Mexico border more generally. First, in its Winter 2011 issue of Emisferica, New York University's Hemispheric Institute exemplifies academic concerns over drug trafficking and its collateral damage by examining what its editors call the "narco-machine." Coined by Rossana Reguillo, the term refers to "all of the processes by which the boundaries between the licit/illicit and legitimate/illegitimate are established and sustained" and "encompasses the relations between the state, traffic in illicit substances, and the border (geographical, ideological, social) created and disturbed by their deadly embrace." (3) For Reguillo the narco-machine is a "ubiquitous, elusive, and phantasmagoric" system occupying a "de-localized" space. It is always everywhere and nowhere simultaneously, exerting its pervasive influence on society. (4) Given this emphasis on the intangible, here it is also imperative to acknowledge that although the narco-machine is indeed in many ways an abstract entity, the collateral damage left in its wake is concrete and occupies a real geopolitical space, which in this particular case is the US-Mexico border. …

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