Becoming ‘Tolerable’: Tolerance Zones and the Excluded Exclusion of Central American Migrants Selling Sex in Mexico’s Southern Border Region.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Margarita PINTIN PEREZ, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, Mexico
In the shadow of the Central American migration ‘crisis,' hostility towards irregular Central American migrants in Mexico’s southern border region has also been institutionally performed by other state agencies, including those under the biopolitical mantle of securing public health. In the southernmost state of Chiapas, public health laws authorize municipal governments to establish the spatial separation of commercial sex towards the urban margins, in locations referred to as ‘tolerance zones.' Based on the assumption that sex workers are central to the spread of sexually transmitted ‘diseases,' designated tolerance zones enable the surveillance and control of the bodies of sex workers, inadvertently locating predominantly female Central American migrants as a threat to public health and social order. In this paper, based on ethnographic research conducted in Mexico’s southern border region between 2015-2016, I signal that the construction of bodies in need of tolerance intersects the historical displacement of sex workers with the contemporary exclusion of irregular migrants, whose economic incompetence with the state, devoid them from pathways to regular status. This work suggests that ‘tolerance’ serves as a depoliticizing discourse, removing the historical emergence of sex work regulation in this region and naturalizing the participation of Central American migrants in the local commercial sex trade. Under the guise of tolerance, the gendered, racialized and classed encoding of sex work regulation, that subjects Central American migrants to segregated zones and routine public health inspections, is normalized. I examine the transcendent and intersecting ‘epistemic violence’ (Spivak, 1988) of tolerance, accomplished at the structural, everyday and symbolic level, to discuss the ways in which these forms of violence collude in constructing bodies in need of tolerance and shaping the ‘excluded exclusion’ (Sanchez, 2003) of female Central American migrants selling sex in Mexico’s southern border region.