Coming of Age in the Rio Grande Valley: Race, Class, Gender, and Generations in Narco Culture

  • Rosalynn A. Vega
Keywords: Rio Grande Valley, borders, intersectionality, social inequality, narco culture


Based on ethnographic observations in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, this article examines the multiple, overlapping, criss-crossing axes of inequality that both shape and fracture the experiences of individual borderland residents. Instead of focusing on the national border, this article analyzes intersecting axes of social inequality and uses ethnographic data to describe social borders that divide and separate those living in the borderlands. Using ethnographic data culled from 133 young adults in focus group settings, this article merges the theory of intersectionality with border studies scholarship in order to analyze how socio-economic stratification, gender inequality, histories of racial discrimination, and generational differences map onto one another in a place characterized by narco violence. In essence, the article demonstrates how the lives of adolescents and young adults in the Rio Grande Valley are ensnared within a unique matrix of intersecting axes of inclusion and exclusion.  The intersecting axes of gender, race, and class inequality unfold in a context of “narco culture,” where residents are not only living along the US-Mexico border, and within social webs of intersectional borders, but also on the border of legality/illegality.


DOI: 10.1353/jeu.2019.0019

Author Biography

Rosalynn A. Vega

Rosalynn A. Vega is Assistant Professor of Medical Anthropology and Global Health at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (2016-present). Her ethnographic monograph, No Alternative: Childbirth, Citizenship, and Indigenous Culture in Mexico, was published by the University of Texas Press in 2018. Her research has been presented and published across the Americas, Europe, and Asia.

How to Cite
Vega, R. A. (2020). Coming of Age in the Rio Grande Valley: Race, Class, Gender, and Generations in Narco Culture. Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, 11(2), 104-123. Retrieved from
Articles for Special Issue on Borders