In Taxi Dancers, Eve Linkletter wrote about a young lady’s desperation in the Big Apple, taking a job in a taxi dance hall. In Our Flesh was Cheap, Linkletter writes about a desperate young girl in Tijuana who sells her body and is abused by her pimp.
The narration is first-person, told by Rosa Sanchez, 18 years old, who has worked as a “crib girl” since she was 16. A crib in vintage Tijuana hooker lino is a brothel, similar to old red light brothels where the prostitutes sat by windows and/or kept a red light on in their room, announcing availability.
The book opens with Rosa working a cantina because the cribs are closed over some articles written by an American reporter over an incident with some American teenagers, so the local authorities are worried about decline in tourist trade. This still happens — whenever there’s negative news about the clubs or sex trade district, curfews and early closing times are imposed, or the streets cleaned up, which only lasts for a few weeks until things go back to normal. For instance, in Tijuana’s Zona Norte, one used to be able to find underage streetwalkers, but all the negative press and pressure by religious and human rights groups, underage hookers can only be found in certain brothels that do not advertise, you have to know where to look; and the young-looking streetwalkers, although they look 15-18, will tell you they are 20. The age of consent in Mexico is 12, but supposedly a girl has to be 18 to work the streets or bars, and they all carry health cards, which Rosa does in this marvelously written short novel…
Rosa lives with her alcoholic mother and two younger sisters. Her mother is an ex-prostitute and Rosa and her sisters have no idea who their fathers are. What money Rosa manages to make goes toward food for her siblings and tequila for her mom. She charges $8 for regular sex, $10 for kinky stuff, but after the madam and the hotel and the police pay offs, she really only gets $1 a lay, so she strives for drink tickets and tips.
She also has a taxi driver pimp, Pablo, who brings her customers from la linea (the borderline) and sets up after-work-hours appointments, which he takes most if not all the money. Rosa is trapped with him: she needs him to bring men her way at the “crib,” and she cannot say no to any trick or else he will beat her up. And he threatens to force her to be hooked on heroin as a punishment.
She speaks good English, having grown up in bi-lingual Tijuana, unlike the girls who come from other Mexican states or Latin American countries who only speak Spanish (the same holds true today with TJ hookers and dancers).
Rosa has accepted her lot in life as a whore — her mother was a whore, her friends are all whores, it is the only way young, uneducated girls like her can make money. One day in a cantina, Rosa meets an American brother and sister, Madeline and Paul. Madeline questions Rosa about her life, how Rosa became a hooker, and has an idea in a social experiment — using her husband’s money and political influence, she will rush papers through to get Rosa a green card, and Rosa can come work as a maid for Madeline in San Diego, where Rosa can leave sex work behind and change her life for the better. Paul thinks it’s a crazy idea, but Madeline is determined and Rosa is agreeable, although she does not believe it’s true. It seems too good to be true, that she would have such a quick way out of her life and hooking and poverty.
For 1959 book, the sexual elements are fairly explicit here — a stag film with a woman and a dog, oral sex, and an anal gang rape. Pablo often sets up Americans where he and Rosa steal their money when their pants are off. Pablo has Rosa in a room with four men who, against her will, rape her in the ass, but they find out their money was taken and they beat up Pablo. Pablo says Rosa took it and she barely escapes the room and getting hurt and raped more. She hides out with a friend as Pablo, bloody and bruised, goes looking for Rosa to beat her for having run out.
Her papers from Madeline have come through, however, so she runs across the border and starts her new life and job as Madeline’s maid. She soon finds out that Madeline’s intentions are not socially political but devious — seems Rosa is the spitting image of her husband’s first wife who died. He’s much older than Madeline, and impotent, so he agrees that she can have lovers to satisfy her physical needs. But Madeline wants out, and she wants more than the house and alimony — she wants half of what her husband has. She wants Rosa to get him to fall in love with her, and when in bed she will have photos taken and blackmail her husband. Rosa agrees to do this if Madeline will arrange for her mother and sisters to get green cards.
The husband, Alvin, is aware of this plot. Rosa then falls in love with Alvin — she has never been treated kindly by any man, never had a man adore her and not demand sex, offer affection. Alvin loves her too — despite the fact that she is 18 and he’s in his 60s, she wants to marry him if and when he leaves Madeline.
Then one day she gets a telegram from her mother saying her sister was hit by a car and is dying. Rosa leaves for Tijuana in a haste, and finds that the telegram was bogus, sent by Pablo. Two of his minions kidnap her and haul her down to Ensenada, where Pablo beats the crap out of her, pumps her full of heroin so that she’s addicted, and forces her to service men in a brothel.
I was only eighteen and lovely to look at. Eighteen, and my body was full of dope that was shot into my arm every few days. My body and face didn’t have a mark on it to show the agony and torment I’d been through. The only marks on me were the needle marks on my arm!
Then the men came. All night, every night, they came. All kinds of men. Old, dirty smelly men. Fillipinos, Chinese, Japanese, Negroes — all races — all shapes and sizes!
Some wanted more than just sex.
I was too hopped up to care.
What did it matter how they used me? It was all the same […] This was only flesh! Human flesh was cheap in Mexico! Young flesh for men’s lust to feed upon. (pp. 94-95)
Don’t worry, she gets rescued, but she doesn’t have the life she expects in San Diego and La Jolla…
A remarkable little book, better than Taxi Dancers in a dark, strange way. The ending is kind of romantic sappy but that’s to be expected.