From Love Muse to Sex Worker: The Transformation of Mexican and Puerto Rican Cantineras

Amalia L. Cabezas, Ethnic Studies, UC Riverside

In popular songs in Latino cultures, the figure of the cantinera, (bar-maid or chambermaid), is a paradoxical one. Lyrics often allude to a romantic interlude between a beer-drinking customer and his waitress. The cantinera, who services the customer, drinks and sits down to talk with him but she is also his love muse. The ballads disclose narratives of unrequited love, betrayal, bonding of souls, and a romantic connection in what is, otherwise, a market-driven interaction. The migratory flows of this new globalization era have transformed the quantity and quality of the cantinera’s labor. The liminal nature of her work is no longer harmless but is now identified with sexual labor and human trafficking. The purpose of this research project is to compare and contrast the production of the cantinera figure in cultural production such as films, and songs, with an empirical investigation about undocumented Latinas who work in cantinas (bars in Latino working-class neighborhoods) in two different geopolitical locations. I will investigate the working and immigration conditions of undocumented Dominican and Mexican workers in Puerto Rico and in southern California. I will assess the new dynamics that circumscribed their work conditions such as immigrant smuggling, incarceration, and deportation.

Amalia L. Cabezas is an Associate Professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California Riverside. She earned her PhD in Ethnic and Women’s Studies from the University of California Berkeley. Her book Economies of Desire: Sex and Tourism in Cuba and the Dominican Republic is based on ten years of research and is the first ethnographic study to examine the erotic underpinnings of transnational tourism. It offers startling insights into the commingling of sex, intimacy, and market forces in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, two nations where tourism has had widespread effects. In her multi-layered analyses, Prof. Cabezas reconceptualizes our understandings of informal economies (particularly “affective economies”), “sex workers,” and “sexual tourism,” and she helps us appreciate how money, sex and love are intertwined within the structure of globalizing capitalism.