Drug Trafficking Stories: Everyday Forms of Narco-Folklore on the U.S.-Mexico Border

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Campbell, H. (2005). Drug trafficking stories: Everyday forms of narco-folklore on the U.S.–Mexico border doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugpo.2005.06.003


The United States government's so-called “War on Drugs” is predicated on the idea that drug consumption and drug trafficking are unequivocally harmful and dangerous activities that the country's population will fear and reject. Yet, ethnographic findings from the U.S.–Mexico border indicate that drug trafficking has become such a common activity that it has generated its own sub-cultural style, including music and folklore. To date, anthropological studies of border drug-trafficking culture have mainly focused on narcocorridos, a genre of Mexican folk/pop music that celebrates and chronicles the drug trade and the lives of high-level traffickers. These studies provide valuable insights into the inner workings of drug organizations and the cultural context from which they emerge. However, most workers in the drug trade are not the wealthy superheroes or villains portrayed in narcocorridos. They are common people whose primary motivation for engaging in drug trafficking is economic survival. Drawing on a rich folklore about drug-trafficking that has become pervasive in the El Paso/Ciudad Juárez border region, this ethnographic study shows how drug commerce has become a “normal,” expectable part of everyday life. The quotidian folklore surrounding drug trafficking indicates the degree to which the drug trade affects border residents on multiple levels. The desensitizing of the population to drug trafficking, as illustrated by everyday drug folklore, and its very mundaneness in the border region, are a direct challenge to the idea that the government is winning the “Drug War.”