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Research Article

Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears a Crown: Narcoqueens, Beauty Queens and Melodrama in Narconarratives


Maria Luisa Ruiz

Saint Mary's College of California, US
About Maria Luisa

María Luisa Ruiz is Associate Professor in the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Saint Mary’s College of California. She is director of the Institute for Latino and Latin American Studies (ILaLS) and faculty advisory board member for the Women’s and Gender Studies (WaGS) and the Global and Regional Studies (GRS) Programs. Professor Ruiz has presented her work on representations of Mexican women in the world of the drug trade at countless conferences and workshops. She also shares her expertise in Latin American literature by serving the College Board as Question Leader during Advanced Placement Spanish Literature and Culture readings.  Because of her service to the college and exceptional commitment to inclusivity and diversity, she received the Brother Manuel Vega Latino Empowerment Award in 2011 and the Saint Mary’s College Faculty Service Award in 2018. In 2021, she was awarded a Fulbright-Hays Seminar Abroad Award.

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The melodramatic narrative mode creates complex realities and news events as logical and consumable stories. This article considers the ways that popular media portray the cases of Sandra Avila Beltrán and Laura Zúñiga, both arrested on drug-related charges in separate incidents that overlap with narconarratives. My analysis demonstrates that Avila Beltrán’s and Zúñiga’s life stories intrigued audiences because, in the context of melodramas, women as criminals is an attractive trope that counters expected “feminine” behavior and challenges constructions of national ideals and respectable femininity. While Avila Beltrán embodies a femme fatale figure, Zúñiga maps to an ingénue. These tropes of idealized femininity soften the transgressive acts of the two women suspected of participating in criminality associated with the transnational drug trade, which is coded as masculine. Their narratives redefine melodramatic gendered performance in the context of a hypermasculine narcoculture that thrives in an age of globalization and neoliberal policies. Their stories are emblematic of the ways that women in narcoculture are narrated, revealing cultural anxieties about changing gender roles in the context of political instability and excessive violence.


El modo narrativo melodramático convierte realidades complejas y eventos noticiosos en historias lógicas y consumibles. Este artículo considera las formas en que los medios populares retratan los casos de Sandra Ávila Beltrán y Laura Zúñiga, ambas arrestadas por cargos relacionados con las drogas en incidentes separados que coinciden en parte con las narconarrativas. Mi análisis demuestra que las historias de Ávila Beltrán y Zúñiga intrigaron al público porque, en el contexto de los melodramas, las mujeres como criminales es un tropo atractivo que contrarresta el esperado comportamiento “femenino” y desafía las construcciones de los ideales nacionales y la feminidad respetable. Mientras Ávila Beltrán encarna una figura de la femme fatale, Zúñiga se deviene una ingenua. Estos tropos de feminidad idealizada suavizan los actos transgresores de las dos mujeres sospechosas de participar en la criminalidad asociada al tráfico transnacional de drogas, que está codificado como masculino. Sus narrativas redefinen la actuación melodramática de género en el contexto de una narcocultura hipermasculina que prospera en una era de globalización y políticas neoliberales. Sus historias son emblemáticas de las formas en que se les narran a las mujeres en la narcocultura, revelando ansiedades culturales sobre el cambio de roles de género en el contexto de inestabilidad política y excesiva violencia.

How to Cite: Ruiz, M.L., 2021. Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears a Crown: Narcoqueens, Beauty Queens and Melodrama in Narconarratives. Middle Atlantic Review of Latin American Studies, 5(1), pp.42–60. DOI:
Published on 30 Jun 2021.
Peer Reviewed


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