Gangs in the El Paso-Juárez borderland: the role of history and geography in shaping criminal subcultures

  • Mike TapiaEmail author


This paper examines the early precursors of organized criminal subcultures using the U.S.-Mexico border city of El Paso, Texas as a case-study. El Paso is known as the birthplace of the pachuco; the Mexican Americans’ original street-oriented subculture. It formed the basis for the numerous delinquent groups that would emerge there throughout the decades, ultimately producing a binational organized crime syndicate called the Barrio Azteca. This barrio-prison-cartel hybrid is a modern group with deep roots in the street-gang subcultures of the region. The current study shows that its ties to drug gangs in Ciudad Juárez and subsequent federal prosecutions were recent catalysts in its escalation as a unique cross-border entity. The work is informed by archival material, police data, and multi-faceted fieldwork with gang members and police. It illustrates how the El Paso-Juárez metroplex has fostered particular criminological dynamics not seen in any other place in the U.S. to date.


U.S.-Mexico border Gangs History 


Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminal JusticeNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA

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