- Camelia la Texana y otras mujeres de la narcocultura ed. by Juan Carlos Ramírez-Pimienta and María Socorro Tabuenca Córdoba
The collection of essays in Camelia la Texana y otras mujeres de la narcocultura gives testimony to the ubiquitous presence of narcocultura in the broader cultural landscape of contemporary Mexico, where ordinary people live and breathe its violent consequences. Narcocultura is produced and consumed nationwide; it is reflected in the musical genre of corridos, TV, novels, films, and visual art. It transpires in Mexico's social habits and street aesthetics, from pimped-out cars to flashy clothes and jewelry. Ubiquitous and celebrated by some, it is also frequently criticized as a vehicle that promotes the cultural acceptance of crime and excess. Yet as María Socorro Tabuenca Córdoba points out in her introduction to this volume, exploring narcocultura is not tantamount to an apology for it. Rather, it is a necessary attempt to make sense of it and to understand its transcendence within Mexican culture in general.
Camelia la Texana focuses on the female side of Mexican narco, shedding light on the interstices of gender, crime, and agency. Tabuenca Córdoba emphasizes the pervasive link between narcocultura and the logic of the capitalist patriarchy, where originally, the female physique—either naturally exuberant or surgically enhanced—constituted women's only viable attribute for narco bosses. But with the arrival of the twenty-first century, women's role expanded from the confines of their bodies to the sphere of drug production and politics as they began to occupy positions within power hierarchies. Female actors in the narco system, mules, active members of paramilitary organizations, sicarias and "queenpins," moved from the object to the subject of production and consumption. [End Page 186]
Focusing on both real and fictional characters that appeared originally in music, film, literature, and real-life crime annals, the essays in this volume explore and take apart the logic that governs the narco universe. The procession of female protagonists is wide ranging; it includes the first heroine of Mexican narcocorridos, Camelia la Texana; Arturo Pérez-Reverte's fictional character La Reina del Sur, whose cultural growth extended from a best-selling novel to an equally popular narcotelenovela; the real-life queen-pin Sandra Ávila Beltrán, whose arrest in 2007 was a mediatic spectacle; and various heroines of recent Mexican novels. Due to limited space, this review will touch on several essays of the volume that address popular culture the most—from music to art and from lived to forensic experience in the areas inflicted by narcocultura, hopefully inspiring readers to explore other accounts included in the anthology.
Two essays that address women in narcocorridos, Ramírez-Pimienta's Camelia la Texana and Minni Sawhney's article on Jenni Rivera, attest to the controversial nature of this musical genre, wherein mass popularity and high sales go hand in hand with adamant criticism of cashing in on violence through music of dubious quality. Sawhney's analysis of Jenni Rivera's career foregrounds the contrast between the unimpressed, if not hostile, music elites from Mexico and the singer's rapport with her loyal audience, Mexicans of humble origin who settled down in the United States to perform menial work. That Rivera chose to sing narcocorridos instead of, say, pop music, exposed her to a barrage of criticism, even though her social and political activism in defense of battered women and Latin American immigrants in the United States confirms her strong social commitment. The contentious atmosphere around narcocorridos emerges in the case of Camelia la Texana as well, where the very creator of this fictional character, Angel González, grappled with its social and cultural resonance despite the song becoming his biggest hit. Yet others quickly jumped on the bandwagon by composing corridos that would extend Camelia's relevance, tackling subjects related to her life, death, and people in her life. Her cultural...