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Love in the Drug War

Love in the Drug War
Selling Sex and Finding Jesus on the Mexico-US Border

A nuanced exploration of life in la zona, the prostitution zone in the border town of Reynosa, Mexico, where narcos, sex workers, and missionaries are entangled in revelatory relationships of love and obligation.

April 2020
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256 pages | 6 x 9 | 8 color photos |

Sex, drugs, religion, and love are potent combinations in la zona, a regulated prostitution zone in the city of Reynosa, across the border from Hidalgo, Texas. During the years 2008 and 2009, a time of intense drug violence, Sarah Luna met and built relationships with two kinds of migrants, women who moved from rural Mexico to Reynosa to become sex workers and American missionaries who moved from the United States to forge a fellowship with those workers.

Luna examines the entanglements, both intimate and financial, that define their lives. Using the concept of obligar, she delves into the connections that tie sex workers to their families, their clients, their pimps, the missionaries, and the drug dealers—and to the guilt, power, and comfort of faith. Love in the Drug War scrutinizes not only la zona and the people who work to survive there, but also Reynosa itself—including the influences of the United States—adding nuance and new understanding to the current Mexico-US border crisis.


2021 LASA Mexico Social Sciences Book Prize
Mexico Section, Latin American Studies Association

2020 Ruth Benedict Book Prize
Association for Queer Anthropology, American Anthropological Association

2020 Gloria E. Anzaldúa Book Prize
National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA)

Honorable Mention, Sara A. Whaley Book Prize
National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA)

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part I. Drug Work and Sex Work in Reynosa
    • 1. Dinero Fácil: The Gendered Moral Economies of Drug Work and Sex Work
    • 2. Rumors of Violence and Feelings of Vulnerability
  • Part II. The Intimate and Economic Obligations of Sex Workers
    • 3. Stigmatized Whores, Obligated Mothers, and Respectable Prostitutes
    • 4. “Sometimes We, as Mothers, Are to Blame”: Drug-Addicted Sex Workers and the Politics of Blame
  • Part III. Missionary Projects in Boystown
    • 5. The Love Triad between Sex Workers, Missionaries, and God
    • 6. Love and Conflict in Sex Worker/Missionary Relationships
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Sarah Luna
Medford, Massachusetts

Sarah Luna is the Kathryn A. McCarthy Assistant Professor in Women's Studies in the Department of Anthropology and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Tufts University, with a focus on issues of sexual labor, migration, race, borderlands, and queer studies. She received her PhD from the University of Chicago. She is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar (2015), and United States Department of Education Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Abroad Fellowship in Mexico (2009) recipient, among other honors.


Love in the Drug War is as detailed as a dissertation and as readable as a novel.”
BuzzFeed News

“The lives of people in two immigrant groups in Reynosa, Mexico, illuminate morality and necessity and conversion and survival within the context of vice tourism and a protracted drug war...Luna situates the sex worker/missionary dynamic within the context of a narcoeconomy and the complexities of narcoviolence that places the lives of the most vulnerable in Mexico in grave danger...Recommended.”

“[A] sensitive and theoretically rich ethnography...[Love in the Drug War] is a compelling, approachable, and very teachable ethnographic perspective on sexual labor, emotion, and racialized, gendered, and classed subjectivities on the border. It also offers an intimate lens on the effects of the militarized war on drugs on vulnerable populations. The book advances the creative power of queer theory and ethnography to expand the boundaries of human understanding.”
General Anthropology

“A compelling resource for understanding the construction and negotiation of moral, economic, material, and spiritual value in the context of the drug war on the Mexico-US border…[Luna] provides a rich example of how structural inequalities shape relations of intimacy and value-making in the borderlands...beautifully written and methodologically rigorous...Love in the Drug War is an engaging and necessary read for anyone interested in love, sexuality, and the borderlands.”
Humanity & Society

“An inspiring and vivid exploration of the intertwining of love and violence in the Mexican border city of Reynosa. Luna’s analysis of two groups of migrants, Mexican sex workers and American missionaries, offers a rare glimpse of the border by rethinking a wide range of intimacies through the lens of love and obligation.”
Shaylih Muehlmann, University of British Columbia, author of When I Wear My Alligator Boots: Narco-Culture in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands


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3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca