Boy's Town, Nuevo Laredo

Boy's Town, Nuevo Laredo

Boy's Town, (or "La Zona" (en: the Zone) as is known in Spanish), is a commercial section of the border town of Nuevo Laredo Tamaulipas which is located in Mexico, it is known to provide patrons with a variety of nocturnal entertainment activities, including especially legalized services or prostitution. Boy's Town is a walled compound containing three east-west streets and two north-south streets. Boy's Town contains a wide range of brothels, "cantinas", bars, restaurants, small stores, a small police station and a health clinic. It is located near the intersection of Monterrey and Anahuac Streets, and some 5 km southwest of International Bridge #1.

Historical precedent

The origins of the Boy's Town concept along the
U.S.-Mexico border can be traced in part to the peculiar relationship that developed between the United States Army and various "ad hoc" entrepreneurs in northern Mexico during the Army’s 1916–17 Punitive Expedition; specifically when General John J. Pershing’s forces were pursuing General Pancho Villa in Chihuahua.

While the troops were based 100 kilometers south of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, at Colonia Dublain, a small group of vendors, launderers, barkeeps, and prostitutes set up businesses next to the army camp. Eventually, General Pershing ordered that the prostitutes be restricted to the southern end of the camp where they would be inspected and certified by the military medical officers. A flat rate for sexual intercourse was also established.

Within a few decades, this concept was adopted by viceentrepreneurs and city managers elsewhere along theborder (Curtis and Arreola 1991a). These compounds, called "zonas de tolerancia" or " Boy’s Towns", were eventually established in at leastseven Mexican cities along the U.S.-Mexico border(San Luis Río Colorado, Agua Prieta,
Ojinaga, Ciudad Acuña, Piedras Negras,
Nuevo Laredo, and Reynosa). Later, severalother cities, not located on the border, establishedcompound "zonas" as well, including Sabinas Hidalgo, Nuevo León, and Salina Cruz,
Oaxaca. Recently, the government of Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, have considered establishing asimilar zona in that city.

While the concept of a zoned area for prostitutionactivities is not unique to Mexico (as it exists invarious forms in other countries), the form andinternal structure of Mexico’s frontier "zonas" owemuch to the arrangement authorized by General John J. Pershing in 1916–17. The current "zona"in Nuevo Laredo was constructed in the 1960s (duringthe municipal administration of Ernesto FerraraFerrara) because city authorities wanted toconcentrate prostitution activities within acontrolled zone (Curtis and Arreola1991a).However, a number of brothels and bars catering toprostitution still operate in the downtown area withthe tacit approval of the government. However a blackmarket of prostitution is for the most partunregulated by the government.


Boy's Town is a classic example of commercial spatial organization within the vice trades (Curtis and Arreola 1991a). The commercial activities can be differentiated into a number of broad categories, and their spatial organization is outlined in the map. The categories include: (1) primary or major brothels, (2) secondary brothels, (3) cribs of free-lance prostitutes, (4) cantinas and bars catering to local patrons, (5) transvestite bars, (6) other commercial services, and (7) residences. Furthermore, Boy's Town is protected by a substation of the municipal police, complete with jail, and there is a health clinic that performs blood tests and weekly screenings of sex workers for venereal diseases.

Primary brothels

The primary brothels are relatively large establishments with full bar service, numerous on-site rooms for liaisons, and some have private parking, gardens, and cafeterias for sex workers. They are usually staffed with 20-60 prostitutes on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and about half that during weeknights. Only one has strippers (Club Danash). They also provide free lodging and one daily meal to prostitutes who work at least 5 days per week.The primary brothels attract visitors from out of town and they generate a sense of excitement with their large neon signs, unique architecture, and frequent special events, including formal dances, Mexican Independence Day parties, Christmas parties, and costume events, etc. These higher quality brothels are mostly frequented by foreigners and younger, wealthier Mexicans (local or from elsewhere in Mexico).

econdary brothels

The secondary brothels are more numerous and they are generally raunchier than the primary brothels. Furthermore, they usually have some type of floorshow to attract customers, including striptease, the occasional live sex show, and one offers the all-too-famous donkey show. They are usually staffed with 5 to 15 prostitutes on any given evening, many of whom also perform in the shows. These brothels usually have on-site rooms of poor quality, and their dominant clientele are working-class locals; especially on "quincenas" (bimonthly pay days).



The cribs represent a clear example of free enterprise within the vice trades. For a variety of reasons, many prostitutes work from cribs rather than the brothels, including those who are recent arrivals, or who are less willing to provide the full range of services expected of brothel prostitutes (such as full nudity during intercourse, oral sex, etc.). Other crib prostitutes may be older or less attractive and are therefore less successful within the brothels and instead ply their trade with passing males more easily from a crib. The freelance prostitutes of the cribs rent the space and they sleep there during the day. They may also share the crib with other sex workers (many of whom may be family members). Local males constitute the primary customer base of sex workers operating in cribs and prices are generally less than 150 pesos ($15 U.S. dollars) for sexual intercourse.

Cantinas and bars

The cantinas and bars constitute a significant component of the economy. Indeed, in some regards, they are the backbone ofnight-time entertainment in Boy's Town (HernándezContreras 2006). Most of the cantinas do not operate as brothels. Instead, they are venues for inexpensive drinks (usually just beer and tequila), live music, and very importantly, dancing. Some are staffed with women who dance with customers for a few pesos. The cantinas provide an inexpensive environment for local males (and occasionally couples) to relax, listen to Cumbia, Norteño, or Ranchera music, and dance into the wee hours. Several of the cantinas (specifically "Alices", "El Cielo del Muerto", and "Los Tres Reyes Bar") are patronized by off-duty prostitutes and their boyfriends and/or husbands during the early morning hours. While these bars are usually opened by 8 p.m. they are almost deserted until 3 a.m. at which time the prostitutes and other customers drop in to 'let off steam' before heading home around sunrise. Most foreigners are likely completely unaware that these bars serve this function because they appear deserted for most of the night.

Cribs versus Bars

Service in the cribs may be compared with service in the bars. In the bars, customers pay three times: for drinks ($2 or $3 for a soft drink, per person), for a room ($10), and for the worker ($20 plus tip). In the cribs, customers pay once ($25), and pay later with a tip, if they like the service. For a man who is not attracted to alcohol, and does not need a soft drink, and wants to reach in his pocket a minimum number of times, the cribs are his choice. Another aspect is that the cribs are personally maintained by the women who live in them. Thus they are clean and fully operational. The occupants sometimes sweep the area before their room. In contrast, the rooms associated with the bars may not show signs of care and maintenance. They may not have running water. The women who work in bars may use these rooms only when they are working and the rooms are the responsibility of the bar. There is less certainty about the status of a sheet on the bed in rooms attached to a bar. Some of the rooms do not have air conditioning, which can be a drawback, in the desert. Visibility is another aspect. In the afternoon, the women who have cribs are often standing in daylight. The light inside the bars is not so good. At night, the crib women have room lighting behind them so their silhouette is obvious. The bar women are in the same low lighting they were in the afternoon.

Transvestite bars

The transvestite bars are an interesting phenomenon in their own right. Some are brothels catering to clients who seek liaisons with transvestites, transgender individuals, or homosexuals. Customers are almost exclusively local males. However, the bars serve a dual purpose in that they provide venues for transvestites to dress up and go out on the town. They can meet, chat and dance with other transvestites and homosexuals, and a few may also engage in sexual relations on the premises. These bars are generally not frequented by foreigners, but on occasion a tourist may stumble into one of these bars only to be greeted with significant enthusiasm from the other patrons.


The laws of supply and demand apply here as elsewhere. Prices asked for rise when demand is higher, as on Friday and Saturday nights. Women who are doing well financially, relative to their needs, do not solicit; they wait for you to approach them. As you stand thirty feet away you ask yourself, “Why is she doing well, and does she not have any expensive habits?” A woman with an obtrusive solicitation makes you wonder why she needs to do that.

Obviously each female sex worker in all locations hopes you exercise as much care about personal hygiene as she does and will treat her with respect. The workers appreciate it if you come prepared with a condom and a lubricant. Doing this shows you are conscientious and are reducing her costs.

Other commercial services available in Boy's Town

A wide range of additional commercial services are available in addition to Boy's Town's entertainment facilities. There are a number of small restaurants and street eateries catering to patrons visiting the bars and brothels, and individuals who live and work in there. Some of the restaurants remain open 24 hours. Other services include small convenience stores, clothing stores, seamstress shops that tailor outfits for the sex workers, and a photo studio. In as much as these businesses serve the compound’s daytime as well as nocturnal residents, they make it feel and look much like a typical neighborhood.

Visitation Planning

For a quick return to the international bridges, a cab is waiting, or will be waiting, west of the police check area inside Boy’s Town. For those who want to do this again and again, there are two good hotels in walking distance of Boy’s Town, to the east, on César López de Lara, a major north-south road. They have wireless internet and food service. Room rates are the same as in Laredo, Texas, for the same service. The rates for the service inside Boy’s Town is what makes the difference. That service in the United States costs ten times more. So arithmetic enables a man to decide whether he will come out ahead by paying air fare to Laredo and a room in a hotel for a week or more, relative to costs without these expenses in his metropolitan area. Being retired and financially secure is an advantage, but telecommuting from Nuevo Laredo has its advantages too. A man can do work for hours on his computer in his room, then stop for the exercise of a walk to Boy’s Town anytime he likes.

Residential component of Boy's Town

While accurate figures of the total number of individuals residing in Boy's Town are not available, it is clear that it ranges into the hundreds at any given time. A large number of sex workers reside in the brothels, cribs, or other rented rooms. Some of the workers live with their boyfriends and/or husbands in these rooms. Furthermore, several bar owners or managers live in there. From a spatial standpoint, most of the rooms for rent are located on the northern fringe or in interior areas located behind the cantinas and cribs.

patial organization within Boy's Town

The internal structure of Boy's Town displays discrete spatial and social organization (Curtis and Arreola 1991a). Indeed, establishments and services exhibit a typical distance decay pattern. All but one of the primary brothels are located near the entrance, secondary brothels and cantinas are located farther from the entrance, and the transvestite bars are concentrated at the far end of the compound. Even the cribs exhibit a distance-decay pattern in that the younger more attractive prostitutes occupy cribs on the central lane (Cleopatra Street), whereas older, or less attractive women rent cribs on the south most lane or in the back near the transvestite bars. This pattern is primarily a function of rental rates for the cribs; being less expensive in the southwest corner of the compound. In conclusion, the spatial structure reflects the influence of both commercial and social forces.

ocial patterns within Boy's Town

From a stability standpoint, employment in prostitution is more transitional and seasonal than other occupations within Boy's Town. For example, most of the waiters, bartenders and shopkeepers retain their jobs for years, if not decades. Indeed, some of the waiters have been working in the same bars for as much as 30 years. These individuals also have fairly set schedules and their employment reflects very little seasonality. In contrast, most prostitutes work in Boy's Town for no more than two to three years; usually in times of severe economic need. Approximately 30% stay between 5 to 8 years, and only 5% may stay for as much as ten years (becoming infamous fixtures in some of the brothels). Prostitutes also tend to work during specific periods and travel frequently between their home states in Mexico and Nuevo Laredo. Many work just weekends and return via autobus to Monterrey or elsewhere in interior Mexico (especially on Sunday mornings). Some work for several weeks each month, while others come for several months each year. In other words, a large number of the sex workers migrate temporarily to the "zona" at fairly consistent intervals (be it for a few days each week, a few weeks per month, or a few months per year). Generally, prostitutes from Monterrey adopt the weekly schedule, whereas those from farther south utilize the longer interval patterns.Most prostitutes arrive as a result of chain migration. In other words, they typically follow the migration of family members (e.g., sisters, cousins, etc.) or acquaintances who already work in Boy's Town. Therefore, they are usually somewhat familiar with the employment options and their spatial organization upon arrival. It is also important to note that all of the prostitutes in Boy's Town are independent operators in that they have no obligation to serve particular clients, and they do not work for madams or pimps. In addition, minimum age restrictions are rigorously enforced by the municipal authorities, and any under-age sex workers who happen to show up will, if detected, be rapidly removed by brothel owners and/or the municipal police.

ignificance of Boy's Town

It is no surprise that the presence of Boy's Town is often a source of embarrassment for some of Nuevo Laredo’s residents. Those individuals who do not utilize the services of the compound usually prefer to ignore its existence, or may suggest that it is not very popular or in a serious state of decline. Others argue for its removal from the city altogether.

However, contrary to these opinions, it is heavily utilized by a significant number of local townsfolk (predominantly working-class males). In addition, large numbers of foreigners visit Boy's Town; especially truck drivers, ranchers, and hunters. Boy's Town was also referenced during the 1990 Texas gubernatorial race when Republican candidate, Clayton Williams, admitted that he had made visits for "servicing." [] Estimates of the number of prostitutes working vary considerably, and estimates of the number of patrons who utilize Boy's Town for entertainment are even less reliable. Nonetheless, according to one local municipal health official, there are approximately 800 prostitutes working in Boy's Town (albeit not at the same time).

The impacts of the drug trade have for many years reached into Boy's Town in the form of consumption. Significant numbers of sex workers and clients may consume drugs on a recreational basis. Indeed, Boy's Town is one of the prime locations for the purchase of cocaine. Scholarly analysis of Boy's Town has been limited to a sociological study in the 1970s (Stevenson 1975) and several geographical surveys in the early 1990s (Arreola and Curtis 1993, Curtis and Arreola 1991a, Curtis and Arreola 1991b). In sum, the zona represents a strong linkage between the vice trades, spatial organization, community opinion, sociological patterns, and frontier economic patterns.


* Boystown : la zona de tolerancia / with essays by Cristina Pacheco, Dave Hickey, and Keith Carter ; afterword by Bill Wittliff. New York : Aperture, in association with the Wittliff Gallery of Southwestern & Mexican Photography, c2000. 108 p. : chiefly ill. ; 27 x 30 cm. ISBN 0893819263
* Arreola, Daniel D., and Curtis, James R., "The Mexican Border Cities: Landscape Anatomy and Place Personality" (1993). Tucson: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0-8165-1287-6
* Curtis, James R., and Arreola, Daniel D. 1991a."Zonas de Tolerancia on the Northern Mexican Border." Geographical Review. 81(3):333-346.
* [" Pappalardo, Joe. "Trick Town."Dallas Observer News. May 31, 2001. "]
* Stevenson, Robert J., "La Zona in Transition: Bordertown Prostitution in Frontier City, Mexico" (1975). Unpublished M.A. thesis, State University of New York at Stony Brook. This project has been expanded and was published as "A Mexican Border Prostitution Community During the Late Vietnam Era: La Zona". Edwin Mellen Press. New York. 2005. Detailed maps of the site, the region, and photographs (circa 1972) appear in Appendix A.

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