Thursday, July 15, 2010

Turf Wars

The women were mad today. They were pissed off….at lunch we sat in a group as they argued with one another over what to do. This is the situation: apparently, a few new young girls have appeared on the street in the past couple months and have been robbing clients. Just the fact that these women have simply “appeared” on their turf is itself a big problem because one cannot just “arrive” to Montufar and Espejo Streets. Most of the women on that corner have been working there for at least 2-3 years. There are some true veterans who have been there for 10 years. But one cannot just “appear” on the corner--instead, she must have some sort of “in.” Usually, an established veteran will slowly introduce a new girl to the area and to the other women. This is the ideal manner for a new woman to start working on the San Marcos turf, and from what I’ve heard, in the other prostitution hot spots of the historic center. In the worst case scenario, a new girl arrives and the other women can’t do anything about it because she is accompanied by her “chulo” (pimp) who guards her. But in this case, the new woman will remain isolated from the other women and will probably only work in San Marcos for a while before moving onto another area with her pimp. The women in San Marcos feel like no more women should arrive there because it’s already oversaturated. It’s particularly offensive when young girls arrive (18 years old) because it is an area established by older prostitutes, most of whom are in their 30s and above.

The fact that these young girls have been robbing their clients is hugely problematic because these acts put all the women’s jobs in jeopardy. Little by little, the clients will start venturing to other areas of the historic center to find other, more trustworthy sex workers. Apparently these young women have an established work pattern: they work for 2-3 days a week, robbing every client they service and then disappear for a week or so. Then they reappear for another 2-3 days and repeat the cycle. There are about 3-4 of them and most likely, they’re from the coast. They also have chulos according to the other women, and indeed, most likely it’s their chulos who have devised this robbing scheme.

Things came to a head today, causing the impromptu lunch meeting with some of the veteran prostitutes, when one of the new girls (la flaca—the skinny one) punched F. (a veteran) when F. politely asked her and her friends to leave the area. Not one to back down, F. started yelling at the girl and asked “What the fuck she thought she was doing here!” Their screaming match could be heard down the street and other women intervened before more punches could be dealt. F. was livid and trembling when she stormed into Don Elio’s lunch place. One of her faithful clients, an older man in his 60s, bought her lunch so she would calm down. Some of the other veteran women trailed in, one by one, to discuss what had happened. I listened with interest as the women complained ardently.

It puzzled me that three young women could start dominating the block when there are 15-20 veterans out there. When I asked C. about this she said, “Anita, the problem is that us veterans are not united—we can’t come together as group to prevent these things.” The other women chimed in to support C.’s point, “yeah, if we could put our differences aside and come together, it wouldn’t be a problem.” Instead, smaller alliances have formed among 3-5 women. I’ve never seen fights break out among these smaller groups who are already established on the corner. Although not all the women like one another, they respect each other’s work space and keep to themselves. I must say though, I witness more acts of friendship among the women than acts of aggression, despite their smaller groupings. A lot of the women move easily among different groups—the more social and outgoing ones seem to get along with everyone.

It seems like these new young women are in danger of driving out some of the veterans. One of the issues the women discussed at lunch was that they don’t have other places to go—a couple of them tried working at Plaza Santo Domingo, another prostitution hotspot in the historic center, but the women who work there immediately kicked them out. As I described above, the different turfs are very clearly demarcated and one cannot just suddenly appear in a new area. Anyway, it’s never easy to switch turfs because one will lose her clients from her old post. Even though Santo Domingo is just a 5 minute walk from Espejo and Montufar Streets, they seem miles apart. Completely different groups of clients and women work in each area. In Santo Domingo there are more black women, all from the coast, and some of them augment their incomes by selling base on the side. Indeed, the area around Santo Domingo is known for drugs—the selling and consumption of them are done in the streets and crack houses in the area. It’s more dangerous to work around the plaza at Santo Domingo, without a doubt.

When I asked why, for example, C.’s boyfriend (or another one of their men) couldn’t intervene and intimidate the young girls off the streets, C. and the others replied that their men don’t get involved with their work. They aren’t chulos, so therefore, they stay as far away from the street drama as possible. C. notably said to me, “No Anita, nosotras mujeres mismas tienen que luchar para la calle.” (“No, Anna, it’s us women who have to fight for the street”). It seems that although there may not be more overt confrontations, the “vibe” given to these new women might drive them away. (A lot of the veterans say they would never “fall so low” as to start physical fights with anyone, they pride themselves on being respectable, decent women, not street thugs). As many of the veterans continue to shun them, these new women might begin to find the environment too hostile to work comfortably. It also seems likely that these new girls will move onto another area with their robbing scheme as more clients become privy to their activities. In the meantime, the veterans will continue to complain and remain pissed off with these younger women, who not only pose a threat due to their youth, but who are also damaging their reputations by robbing—an activity reserved to the lowest of the low. According to the veterans, only the junkies actually rob clients. No one else would be so stupid. Obviously, one of the main reasons why the veterans have lasted so long on the streets is because they have developed large client bases by treating these men with respect. Without a doubt, many of the veterans take great pride in the good service they provide to their clients.

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