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Downtown Juárez

Downtown Juárez
Underworlds of Violence and Abuse

An intimate look at the normalization of violence in the lives of sex workers, drug dealers, barflies, and drug addicts in downtown Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

November 2021
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264 pages | 6 x 9 |

At least 200,000 people have died in Mexico’s so-called drug war, and the worst suffering has been in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, Texas. How did it get so bad? After three decades studying that question, Howard Campbell doesn’t believe there is any one answer. Misguided policies, corruption, criminality, and the borderland economy are all factors. But none of these reasons explain how violence in downtown Juárez has become heartbreakingly “normal.”

A rigorous yet moving account, Downtown Juárez is informed by the sex workers, addicts, hustlers, bar owners, human smugglers, migrants, and down-and-out workers struggling to survive in an underworld where horrifying abuses have come to seem like the natural way of things. Even as Juárez’s elite northeast section thrives on the profits of multinational corporations, and law-abiding citizens across the city mobilize against crime and official malfeasance, downtown’s cantinas, barrios, and brothels are tyrannized by misery.

Campbell’s is a chilling perspective, suggesting that, over time, violent acts feed off each other, losing their connection to any specific cause. Downtown Juárez documents this banality of evil—and confronts it—with the stories of those most affected.

  • Introduction: Borders of the Mind—Violence in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico
  • 1. Synergistic Violence and the Normalization of Abuse in a Border Context
  • 2. The Bridge: Concentrations of Power, Economic Exchange, and Transnational Humanity
  • 3. The Historical Roots of Violence, Crime, and Abuse in Downtown Juárez and Colonia Bellavista
  • 4. Colonia Bellavista Today
  • 5. Avenida Juárez Today
  • 6. Prostitution and Sex Workers in the Downtown Street Scene
  • 7. Contemporary Gay Pick-Up Scenes and Danger in Downtown Juárez
  • 8. Border Bar Life: An Introduction
  • 9. A Place without Limits: Inebriation and Dehumanization at The Club
  • 10. Conviviality, Drug Deals, Sexual Abuse, and a Juárez-Based Philosophy of Masculine Nihilism
  • 11. Bars as Sites and Languid Staging Areas for Petty Crimes: Hanging Out in the 69 Lounge, Waiting for Something Bad to Happen
  • 12. Downtown Bars as Locations of both Pleasure and Victimization: Sex, Drugs, and Extortion at El Antro
  • 13. Bars and Criminality: Human Smugglers and Cross-Border Drug Smugglers in Central Juárez
  • 14. Everyday Drug Dealers in Downtown Juárez
  • 15. Human Perseverance amidst Recurring “Drug Wars”
  • 16. The Naturalization of “Drug Violence”: Hit Men and Drug Killings
  • 17. Paloma Makes a Life in the Downtown Bars: Survival amidst Crime, Violence, Drugs, and Sexual Abuse
  • Conclusion: Synergistic Violence and the Cycle of Victimization on the Border
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Howard Campbell is a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas, El Paso. He is the author of several books, including Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juárez.


Downtown Juárez is a disturbing and compelling ethnography. In its detailed narratives, it lays out the many layers leading to the creation of what we could all experience given equivalent circumstances: mean streets, drug addiction, sex trafficking, corruption, and bare survival for some and certain destruction for others. This is a necessary treatise to understand how misery on one side of the border region is in part dependent on the luxury of the other as well as the corruption of police, politicians, and the movers and shakers of a city named after the Lincoln of Mexico.”
Carlos G. Vélez-Ibáñez, Arizona State University, author of Reflections of a Transborder Anthropologist: From Netzahualcóyotl to Aztlán

“Howard Campbell's Downtown Juárez is a masterful achievement. He shows us the fabric of a city, in a sweeping and deeply researched study, to capture the underlying narrative of a misunderstood border community.”
Alfredo Corchado, Mexico Border Correspondent, Dallas Morning News, and author of Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter's Journey Through a Country's Descent into Darkness