A version of this article originally appeared on VICE en Español.
Season four of Netflix's Narcos transports viewers to 1980s Mexico, following the rise of the Guadalajara Cartel and the events that launched the decades-long Mexican drug war. As the storylines of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (Diego Luna), AKA El Padrino ("The Godfather"), and DEA Agent Kiki Camarena (Micheal Peña) collided on screen, I wondered how actual Mexican drug traffickers were reacting to the screen adaption (if at all). Curious, I hit them up with a simple proposal: I ordered their products for delivery to my home, offered them a beer, and shot the shit with them. As we chatted about their illicit activities, we tasked ourselves with finding episodes of the series that—whether for nostalgia or personal relevance's sake—provoked the biggest responses from them. Here's what they had to say.
Names have been changed to protect each subject's identity.
I grew up in the era where Amado Carrillo Fuentes, AKA El Señor de Los Cielos ("The Lord of the Skies"), was the biggest drug trafficker in Mexico. I was 10 years old at the time. My mother’s family is from Mazatlán, Sinaloa, and I grew up hearing stories about a certain narco—the nickname for narcotraficante, that is to say, "he who moves drugs". The word actually comes from the Greek root word narcotikos, “to make stiff or numb”—[a connotation that] isn’t as bloody as the one today. One of my uncle’s friends was castrated after a bad drug deal, but that was the only violent story I recall from that time. From then on, the idea of drug trafficking always stuck with me. Regarding Narcos: Mexico, I like the photography, the story, and [Rafael] Caro Quintero’s accent. It’s an accent from the ocean and waves, really chinola [authentically Sinaloan]. It reminds me of my grandmother.
A few years ago, I dropped out of the university where I was studying communication science and started selling used books and CDs instead. Back then, a friend of mine—the girlfriend of a dude who worked as a security guard for shipments in safe houses—offered me a kilo of marijuana at a real cheap price, and BAM—I sold it at $100 pesos [$4.95 USD] for each baggie, and made over three times profit. Now, I sell two kilos of regular weed every 20 days, and about ten ounces of morada de Tecate [purple kush] from Baja California. I don’t consider myself a narco; I’m more of an Avon salesperson. Call me up and I’ll deliver your “creams.”
The Colombian version of Narcos is badass but not as much as the Mexican version we just watched. When you’re dealing you have so much free time to watch TV. I would’ve liked to be friends with Del Cochiloco. He seemed like a real son of a bitch in the series. My uncles would say that they partied hard at Mazatlán’s carnivals. Fuckin’ Cochiloco, he knows how to throw a party! I remember being at my grandfather’s house when my uncle told us he’d just been shot dead.
El Gordo, 29
I deal coke, but I try to be smart about it. I was born in Culiacán, Sinaloa. I lived in Los Angeles until I was a teenager but I left because I had a bit of trouble with a methamphetamine shipment that the police seized from a mistake I made. Before I got into more trouble with my bosses, I moved to the Mexican border. I’ve been drug-dealing for ten years now. I watch Netflix because my wife likes it, and this series about drug traffickers caught my eye. We’ve been trendy for a few years now.
In Narcos: Mexico, there’s an episode where the police burn down a shit ton of Caro Quintero’s weed acres. I can relate to that, because the cops fucked me over too but more directly with money. Once, I was driving with my wife when we were pulled over by the state police for allegedly speeding—but everyone knows this agency is fully in the drug trafficking game. They forced me out of my car, pushed me next to the trunk, and made my wife get in the patrol car. When they asked what my occupation was, I told them “in the field”—an agricultural laborer in California—and they proceeded to inspect my hands. The cop said, “You don’t have any calluses or cuts, [your hands] are super soft. You’re a fuckin’ dealer.” They already knew what I was when they pulled me over. They acted like jackasses to cover the tracks that someone made to detain me. There’s always envy in this line of work.
The cop grabbed my phone and started inspecting it, and suddenly it rang. He answered it and impersonated me, and the client said something like, “I want 300 blank pages.” That confirmed their suspicions, and they started to search my car until they found a magnetic box filled with cocaine baggies that I usually attach to the motor. They even knew my hiding spot for it. When I saw they seriously wanted to fuck me over, I told them I had $15,000 pesos [~$736 USD] worth of a bribe at my house if they let me go.
They searched everything. They found the big stash of $60,000 pesos [~$2,956 USD] which I wasn’t planning on giving to them. They ended up taking $75,000 pesos [~$3,695 USD] altogether. “Keep the merchandise so you can help yourself with the sales,” the one who appeared to be the boss told me. “But if you keep selling here, you’ll have to pay $15,000 pesos [~$739 USD] every month or we’ll detain you every time we see you.” That week, I moved to a new apartment and painted my car another color. To me, they fucked me over like Caro Quintero—or at least, I bet he felt the same way I did. Since then, when the streets are hot on the weekends, I’ll send my wife on deliveries or we’ll run them together with our one-year-old son. Having a baby helps keep the cops away.
I got excited when I saw the ad for Narcos: Mexico. I sell mushrooms that my boyfriend grows and medicinal marijuana that he brings on the weekends from San Diego. I only sell to my friends and it’s rare that I leave the house. I watched the first season of Narcos with Pablo Escobar, but it was morbid: I didn’t like it that much, but I watched all of it because I was genuinely curious how this type of organization operated in Colombia and how they were able to commit those acts of terrorism. I read Narcoland by Anabel Hernández awhile ago, and I thought it would be badass to watch the series and identify with a character like El Mexicano.
The show did leave me a bit nostalgic for the time when the Arellano Félix brothers owned Baja California. The Güero Palma character was pretty cool, and Cochiloco was an asshole; they were the ones in the newspapers. I could even hear a ballad about drug trafficking by the Tucanes de Tijuana in the background. I liked Diego Luna’s acting.
My first thought was that the series seemed like another drug soap opera from Telemundo, but it’s better than that. Sure it’s no Sopranos, but I still like it. I even felt like one of the characters in the series, but not as good as Isabella, who sees herself as Queen of the Pacific. She was born in Mexicali, just like me.
I moved to the border from Cosalá, Sinaloa when I was in high school. My uncles grew marijuana over there. I sell coke. There was a period of time when I worked as a cashier at a 7-Eleven to keep a low profile with my neighbors, so they could see me go to work and keep up appearances. It’s suspicious to have a family and no job but still have money. I did that for about a year but I got tired and got the hell out. Now I just sell coke. When I’d work during the day and deal at night, I was always sleep deprived.
There’s a scene in the series Narcos: Mexico where they’re at a Cuban’s house [Sicilia Falcón] and there’s a huge party—people doing a bunch of coke and others getting in a jacuzzi and having mass orgies. That scene stuck out to me because something similar happened to me last week.
Those of us who live on the border aren’t strangers to drug trafficking stories. Either you know someone who’s moved drugs to the United States or you have a family member who’s a dealer, but even if it seems like a joke, drug trafficking is in the air.
I’m not a fan of the Narcos series, but I did like some episodes of the Mexican version. I don’t really have a critique; it was just simply entertaining. I knew these stories from the news, or recognized characters from drug ballads I’d previously heard—or because every family member of mine from Sinaloa and Jalisco talks about these topics at every meal.
I attended elementary and middle school in Calexico [the Californian city that shares a border with Mexicali in Baja California, Mexico]. I crossed the border every morning and did my homework at the Camarena Memorial Library [in Calexico] during the afternoons. Now that I’ve seen Narcos: Mexico, I totally understand Kiki Camarena. He was born in Mexicali but lived in Calexico too. I sell cocaine and marijuana. I’m a clown compared to the drug traffickers in the series, but there is some resemblance there—or at least I can see myself in them. I once spent four months in jail because they found 50 boxes of Rivotril—Clonazepam, a controlled substance—that I was selling in the trunk of my car. I sell drugs so I don’t have to work some shitty job. That's what inspires me about the series Narcos.
I sell cocaine, marijuana, and LSD. I saw people smoking weed in a movie once, and when I was at a party later, I wanted to try it and then sell it. That feeling was harmless, but I got into harder stuff when I got into electronic music, which led me to psychedelics like LSD—which, again, I went on to sell later.
I think the series Narcos: Mexico is interesting because it puts a face to the characters from stories we’ve heard all our lives. My brother had a bunch of CDs from El TRI, [a Mexican classic rock band]. I really liked that one song of theirs called “Sara.” I’ve listened to it so many times and it wasn’t until now that I understood they were talking about Caro Quintero in the song. [Music] is also how I learned who Don Neto and Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo are; I know that the drug ballad from Los Tigres del Norte, “El Jefe de Jefes” is about [Félix Gallardo] too.
There was a time when I took about $1,000 pesos [~$49 USD] worth of LSD every week. But I was starting to lose my mind, like Caro Quintero in that episode when he quits cocaine. My brain was all messed up: I started having flashbacks and hallucinatory episodes; even when I didn’t take LSD, I would see demons and monsters.
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