American Literature and Culture
Jason Ruiz, University of Notre Dame

Narcomedia: Latinxs, Drug Economies, and the Politics of Representation


Patricia Ybarra
Brown University


According to various U.S. federal agencies, Latinx populations use illegal drugs at lower rates than the national average. Nonetheless, and related to the fact that Latinxs are disproportionately incarcerated for drug offenses, Latinos and Latinas remain overrepresented in U.S. media texts that tell the story of how the nation procures, uses, and abuses illicit narcotics. However, according to countless examples from American popular culture, Latinxs are natural participants of the transnational narcotics trade and, to some, the instigators of America’s drug problems. This talk posits that scholars and students of Latinx studies must take these modes of representation seriously and that this process must begin by looking closely at how, exactly, Latinx drug narratives circulate in U.S. popular culture. First, it will show the ways that Latinx villians are as old as the film medium itself and that many of of the tropes that audiences associate with Latinx criminality have been in place for more than a century. Second, building on that historical overview, this talk will examine the most recent cycle of Latinx drug films and series, focusing on those embedded in the so-called “Prestige Television” movement (series like Breaking Bad and Narcos) to argue that we are entering a period of renewed cultural interest in Latinxs’ roles in the international drug trade.