Trope of the Week: Drug Lord Mexican

WARNING: This contains spoilers for Better Call Saul.

Need a drug lord in your story? Well, it can’t be a white dude. That would be silly! Make him a crazy Mexican who is only interested in money and power! That will be super original, and it has certainly never been done before.


Tuco Salamanca from Breaking Bad

Why this can be bad: Hopefully you caught the sarcasm up above. Despite what most media will tell you, not every Mexican person is involved in a cartel or gang. Many representations of Mexican people, especially men, have them in some sort of gang scenario either dealing drugs or killing people. While the representation of cartels has some basis in reality, it is an over-represented cliche. When contemporary dramas introduce drug dealers, the characters brought to fill the roles are almost exclusively Black or Latino, and these are typically the only roles they will fill in these shows. The biggest issue here is not that there are Mexican characters in these drug-centric roles, but rather that they occupy these and only these roles.

How you can fix it: If you’re writing about a Mexican drug cartel, then you obviously need to have Mexican characters. However, if you leave these as your only Mexican characters, you’re making a rather nasty implication — whether you want to or not. By adding some other Mexican characters in a variety of professions and positions, you are not representing Mexican people as a singular entity (drug lords), but rather as a realistic, complex group. Breaking Bad, for example, has Steve Gomez, a Mexican-American officer of the DEA and recurring character and Andrea Cantillo (Latina), former drug user and struggling single mom.

Breaking Bad also uses another tactic for making sure notable drug lord Tuco Salamanca is not simply the crazy drug log: it makes him a multifaceted character. I’ve mentioned this before, but making each character complex in personality, issues, and motivations is vital to a good story. Tuco is a member of the Juarez cartel, and when we first meet him, he seems like he’s only insane and greedy. When you get to know him a little more, though, you learn that, well, those two things are true. But! he is also incredibly protective and loving of his family. He takes very good care of his wheelchair-bound and invalid uncle, and in Better Call Saul, we see he will beat you up and think about killing you if you dare call his abuelita a “biz-natch” and try to cheat her. Tuco is not just the crazy drug lord, but also a man who loves and cares for his family.

Bottom Line: Make your characters well-rounded, and if you can’t do that, at least introduce other Latino or Mexican characters who are not drug lords or cartel members.

One comment on “Trope of the Week: Drug Lord Mexican

  1. jbgarner58 says:

    Reblogged this on J. B. Garner – Musings of a Starving Author and commented:
    I proudly present Paige’s Trope of the Week. Good reading for all writers!

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