Mexican Border Prostitution Community During the Late Vietnam Era: la Zona

Author: Stevenson, Robert J.
La Zona is the Mexican name for the specific section of the community where prositution is tolerated. This two-period ethnography of a brothel community located on Mexico’s northern border was conducted during the late Vietnam era. The only study of its kind, it examines five themes absent from the literature on prostitution: first, the “demand” side of the market: the male clientele; second, the social psychology of the client role; third, the extra-occupational lives of the women; fourth, changes in social mobility patterns and career contingencies and fifth, the documentation of preconditions necessary for the emergence of the role of the pimp.

This case study explores the operation of a brothel community in Frontier City, Mexico during a period of economic prosperity (1969-1972). Participant observation provides a typology of the major forms of prostitution practiced and the characteristics of the clientele (American, Mexican-American, Mexican) are discussed. While most studies of prostitution ignore the importance and structure of the clientele,. i.e., men: their recreational values, dating preferences and social functions, this study demonstrates that the nature, size, and composition of the clientele pool are related in important ways to the level of economic activity in the American southwest and traces the impact this has on physical and social mobility, working conditions, friendship and recreational networks that emerge on the site. The major findings concern an elaboration of the social psychological requirements for negotiating the client role; the importance of the male heterosexual subculture in learning to become a client; the focal concerns of the prostitutes and the lack of structural support for pimps--seen largely in terms of functional substitutes and institutional arrangements. A Postscript (The Summer of 1974) explores significant changes in the scene after roughly two years.


"The study provides a detailed examination of the sex workers' clients, some insights into how bars and brothels are operated, and a general overview of the economic foundations of La Zona. ... The book offers an interesting discussion of the social and working lives of the women in La Zona and works to situate their experiences in the context of specific geographical and social space of Mexico. It provides the reader with a glimpse into this particular group of sex working women and demonstrates how social networks and the cultural fabric of a community can impact on the ways in which sex workers negotiate both their professional and their private lives." -- Prof. Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University, UK

Table of Contents

1. Carnival Lights
2. Working
3. Recreation
4. The Fabric of Social Life
5. Conclusions
6. Postscript (The Summer of 1974)
List of Tables