Photo of Vargas Cerventes, Susana

Susana Vargas Cervantes

Assistant Professor
    Building:Richcraft Hall, Room 4110A
    Department:School of Journalism and Communication


    My research navigates between cultures and methodologies that bridge Latin America and Anglo North America. My publications connect gender, sexuality, class and skin tonalities in Latin America with Anglo North American theories of performative gender and sex, weaving together transnational feminisms, critical race theories, postcolonial theories, queer and trans theories in relation to media and visual culture.

    My dissertation Alarma! Mujercitos performing gender in the pigmentocratic sociocultural system of Mexico centered on a 1970s true crime magazine and its depictions of “effeminate men,” can be seen in part in the Mujercitos photo book (Editorial RM, 2015), for which I have lectured internationally, in Transgender Studies Quarterly from Duke University Press, a book chapter in La Memoria y el deseo. Estudios gay y queer en México, and in book Aprehendiendo al delincuente: sociedad y medios en Norteamérica (UNAM-Media@McGill 2011), which I co-edited with Graciela Martínez Zalce and William Straw.

    My third book, The Little Old Lady Killer: the Sensationalized Crimes of Mexico’s First Female Serial Killer, (NYU Press, 2019). For three years, amid widespread public outrage, police in Mexico City struggled to uncover the identity of the killer responsible for the ghastly deaths of forty elderly women, many of whom had been strangled in their homes with a stethoscope by someone posing as a government nurse. When Juana Barraza Samperio, a female professional wrestler known as la Dama del Silencio (the Lady of Silence), was arrested—and eventually sentenced to 759 years in prison—for her crimes as the Mataviejitas (the little old lady killer), her case disrupted traditional narratives about gender, criminality, and victimhood in the popular and criminological imagination.

    Marshaling ten years of research, and one of the only interviews that Juana Barraza Samperio has given while in prison, I deconstruct this uniquely provocative story, focusing in particular, on the complex, gendered aspects of the case, asking: Who is a killer? Barraza—with her “manly” features and strength, her career as a masked wrestler in lucha libre, and her violent crimes—is presented, here, as a study in gender deviance, a disruption of what scholars call mexicanidad, or the masculine notion of what it means to be Mexican. Cervantes also challenges our conception of victimhood—specifically, who “counts” as a victim.

    Before joining Communication and Media Studies at Carleton, I completed a Fulbright Visiting Scholar position at Columbia University.



    The Little Old Lady Killer: The Sensationalized Crimes of Mexico’s First Female Serial Killer
    (Alternative Criminology Series, NYU Press, 2019)

    In Progress

    Alarma: 50 years of Nota Roja in Mexico (Under contract, Palgrave) focuses on this particular tradition for the narration of violence characterized by its gruesome and cruel photographic content which has gained increasing attention by academics and general public alike, the scholarship is still, however, at its early stages.  This book focuses on the most representative periodical of this news genre over the last half-century, Alarma! Únicamente la verdad!, (“Alarma! Only The Truth!,” Alarma from here on), which defined a different type of journalism in Mexico and constitutes one of the most extensively  read magazine in Mexico. While early writers on Alarma were concerned mostly with the question of violence, my work moves towards on one hand, issues of gender, sexuality and class. On the other hand, to questions of affect and violence in photographs.

    Edited Books

    Aprehendiendo al delincuente: sociedad y medios en Norteamérica. Edited by Martínez Zalce

    Graciela, Will Straw, and Susana Vargas Cervantes. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México- CISAN. Mexico City, 2011.

    Journal Articles

    “Pigmentocracy and the performance of whiteness in contemporary photography: Yvonne Venegas’s San Pedro Garza and Dana Lixenberg’s United States.”  Feminist Media Studies (2022).

    “Agentividad queer desde Latino América” Desacatos. Revista de Ciencias Sociales 65 (2021): 218-22.

    “Alarma! Mujercitos performing gender in 1970s Mexico.” Transgender Studies Quarterly Duke 1, no. 4 (2014): 552-558.

    “Retablos: emociones, afectos y cuerpos en subversión.” Revista Latinoamericana de Estudios sobre Cuerpos, Emociones, y Sociedad 4 (2011).

    “Performing Mexicanidad: Criminality and Lucha Libre.” Crime, Media and Culture 6, no.2 (2010): 185- 203.

    Book Chapters

    “Saliendo del clóset: ¿gay, maricón o queer?,” in La Memoria y el deseo. Estudios gay y queer en México. Ed.  Rodrigo Parrini y Alejandro Brito. México City: PUEG. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2014.

    “El que ríe al ultimo, ríe mejor: Mujercitos en la nota roja en México durante los años 70.” In Aprehendiendo al delincuente: sociedad y medios en Norteamérica. Ed. Martínez Zalce Graciela, Will Straw and Susana Vargas Cervantes. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México y Media@McGill. Mexico City, 2011.

    Art Books

    Mujercitos (Editorial RM. Barcelona, 2014) publishes all the archival material from my doctoral dissertation, the photographs of the nota roja periodical Alarma! It features a shot essay on the topic as well as a forward by Cuauhtémoc Medina.

    Artists’ Catalogues and Books

    “The Feminist Thrust of Languages” Mercedes Azpillicueta, Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein. Mousse Publications. November 2022.

    “Las masculinidades del falso camaleón: Erauso entre Cortezii y la Malitzin en la Nueva España.” Cabello/Carceller. Una voz para Erauso, Centro Azkuna, Bilbao, España, 2022.

    “The Monument to Columbus in Paseo de la Reforma: from 1877 to 2020, and the empty pedestal awaiting for “Young Woman of Amajac.” Harvard University Press, Forthcoming.

    “Joan E. Biren.” Apartamento. An everyday life interiors magazine. Issue no. 28. 2022.

    “Crocheted Entanglements.” ektor garcía. Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany. 2019.

    “Afterword” Mermen. Alberto García del Castillo. Shelter Press. 2018.

    “Revolt they Say!” Andrea Geyer: Travels on Slender Thread.  The New Foundation Seattle. 2016.

    “Unintelligibility: Gender and Anxiety in Switch.” JJ Levine. Switch. 2015.