The story of sex tourism in the Gringo Gulch neighborhood of San José, Costa Rica could be easily cast as the exploitation of poor local women by privileged North American men—men who are in a position to take advantage of the vast geopolitical inequalities that make Latin American women into suppliers of low-cost sexual labor. But in Gringo Gulch, Megan Rivers-Moore tells a more nuanced story, demonstrating that all the actors intimately entangled in the sex tourism industry—sex workers, sex tourists, and the state—use it as a strategy for getting ahead.
Rivers-Moore situates her ethnography at the intersections of gender, race, class, and national dimensions in the sex industry. Instead of casting sex workers as hapless victims and sex tourists as neoimperialist racists, she reveals each group as involved in a complicated process of class mobility that must be situated within the sale and purchase of leisure and sex. These interactions operate within an almost entirely unregulated but highly competitive market beyond the reach of the state—bringing a distinctly neoliberal cast to the market. Throughout the book, Rivers-Moore introduces us to remarkable characters—Susan, a mother of two who doesn’t regret her career of sex work; Barry, a teacher and father of two from Virginia who travels to Costa Rica to escape his loveless, sexless marriage; Nancy, a legal assistant in the Department of Labor who is shocked to find out that prostitution is legal and still unregulated. Gringo Gulch is a fascinating and groundbreaking look at sex tourism, Latin America, and the neoliberal state.