…Women found that narcotics smuggling paid more than peddling food, drinks, or their own bodies. Accustomed to working in the informal economy…they used a prescribed gender role—their feminine wiles—to advance their positions in this business.In this significant account, Elaine Carey, chair of the Department of History of St John’s University, reveals the dirty secret behind the strutting macho image of the drug trade in which, at all levels, from crime boss to user/dealer, females are both exploited—and exploiting.
The patterns are not new. In 1940 in Vancouver, Winnifred Chapman, a low-level operative in the drug trade, was strip-searched after denying any crime and refusing to cooperate; the search revealed two fingerstalls filled with opium concealed in her body. After her violent resistance and the presumably equally violent search, Chapman stated that she had “every intention of resuming peddling drugs in Vancouver once released.”
In contrast, at the other end of the professional ladder, the notorious and highly successful Lola La Chata—born in a poverty-ridden ghetto in Mexico City in 1906—grew up working as a mule (drug carrier) for her mother, transporting drugs in baskets. This practice of passing along both the dealing and addiction was not uncommon in Mexico. Lola moved to the border town of Cuidad Juárez during the Mexican Revolution, forged an executive career path in the international smuggling trade, and eventually returned to Mexico City to inculcate her own daughters into the profession. The author suggests that La Chata and others like her, including the infamous La Nacha, who controlled drug sales to tourists along the Mexican border into the 1940s, “embodied a threat to Mexican and US society, since she ruptured the expectations of what it meant to be a woman.” Yet it was also their feminine nature, in part, that made them successful, since drug dealers have to have a strong network of underlings; a woman could gather a faithful circle of minions in her a role as a community contributor, a “godmother” to her neighborhood.
Carey’s book is not only concerned with the Mexican/Latin American drug trafficking scene. Even during the period of Prohibition in the US, where most attention has been focused on high-powered men in the bootlegging business, Carey points out that such businesses were family run, “passed from generation to generation, and both men and women participated in it equally.”
Rich in fact that at times reads like folklore, Women Drug Traffickers is notable for its diligent research, its historical importance, and its nuanced look at these remarkable females who, though engaged in an illegal and hardly laudable line of work, were also carving a niche “in a male industry that for decades accepted women as lovers, mules, couriers, partners and bosses.”