- "I don't have to own the whole building. I just want a few bricks."
- ―James Valdez
James Valdez is the male lead of Queen of the South. He is Teresa's mentor, partner and lover.
See Also James and Teresa for a detailed chronology of their relationship.
As a child, he wanted to ditch school so he drank half of a bottle of soap. He never did that again, due to the vomiting it caused 
His younger sister died when they were young, and it is implied that his parents are dead, too.3x02
He is an ex-military sergeant. He was in the First Calvary,2x03 which is based in Texas. He works for CIA for a whole year in an attempt to protect Teresa's organization.
When there was a hit out on Camila, James saves her life wordlessly. This loyalty earns her trust and James becomes her second in command since then.2x02 He is in charge of the Warehouse duties and runs the daily operations for Camila.
James shows that he cares for the wellbeing of the mules when he tries to ditch the airport job to save Teresa's life when she is delivering the drugs in ingested balloons prone to bursting. James dislikes people dying needlessly on his watch. He also knows Camila's sneaky nature and warns Teresa not to ingratiate herself with Camila. He dislikes violence and uses it only as a last resort.
James puts on a silent, tough front but he isn't as unaffected. He doesn't enjoy the cartel life, but his view is that the only way to get out is to move up. He is willing to use violence for information, but he finds no joy in it. He often averts his gaze to violence that others commit, as with the deaths of Leo2x05 and the reporter.3x04 His outlook on life is grim, as shown by his "trapped in a cave" metaphor.
James is very loyal. His loyalty to Camila is unwavering for years, but he lies to Camila to protect Teresa. James shows more and more loyalty to Teresa, eventually coming to work for her. James falls in love with Teresa and accepts her idea that the biz could be done with less violence and more ingenuity. By the end of the series James undergoes character changes that result in him wanting to leave and 'clean his hands' as he gets tired of the violence in his life.
James respects women, especially strong women. He gives Teresa space to make her decisions although he often plays devil's advocate to make her look at the problems from all angles. James is supportive and never takes credit.
James has a good head on his shoulders. He memorizes layouts and formulates plans of attack. He is good at calculating risk and escaping dangerous situations intact, though he does come in contact with a bullet every now and then.
James isn't overly ambitious - "he doesn't want the whole building, just a few bricks", but he does set himself up to be indispensable with his wide range of special skills. He functions best as part of a group as proven by his work for Camila, Devon, then Teresa.
James has dark hair and a light beard. He has tattoos on his left arm, extending from his neck to his bicep. He has a spider-web tattoo extending across his shoulder, and some skulls tattooed on his arm, among others. On his neck is a coffin tattoo with a cross and a ribbon around it. He is often seen wearing his leather jacket and dark sunglasses.
As he's ex-military, he is trained in combat first-aid2x03 as well as in using weaponry. He has excellent marksmanship and has served as a sniper for both Camila and Teresa. Camila thinks that James is good at getting people to trust him.1x03
High pain tolerance. In 2x08, he is tortured by a Cortez and doesn't give in. He has also been shot three times and hasn't been shown to complain.
- Teresa Mendoza: Teresa is often paired with James for missions and they develop a partnership. He warns her about Camila's traps and mindset and supports her when she has trouble accepting the violence in her new life. James mentors Teresa, teaches her survival skills and saves her life numerous times while risking his own. They develop a strong loyalty bond and show signs of falling in love with each other throughout season 1, however their mutual feelings become clear when in season 2 James walks knowingly into a death trap to save Teresa2x04 , while Teresa has a dream of James kissing her.2x06 In season 3 James accepts her belief that the biz could be done with less violence and more ingenuity thus becoming her soulmate and partner in crime3x01. James's outlook on life in the crime world changes significantly under Teresa's influence. In season 3 James and Teresa work as partners to defeat La Commission and become the only suppliers in Phoenix. They become lovers and run the Operation for weeks until things fall apart after Teresa's trip to Bolivia. James is hurt when Teresa under Pote's influence accuses him of being the mole responsible for El Santo's death. The third season ends with James leaving Teresa to work for the CIA so that the Agency stays away from her organization, however Teresa does not know the truth and believes he leaves because she failed to trust him. James is away for one year, and when he comes back he is wounded and brings the message of a kill team after Teresa. Upon his return James finds a very changed Teresa - ruthless and greedy - and he has difficulties accepting the new person she has become. Once they are on the path of legitimizing the biz, their relationship goes back to normal - they are seen planning, working and sharing together. The couple decides to leave the business after it becomes clear that they can never be legitimate and independent and that they have to be CIA's pawns. James and Teresa come clean with each other about their feelings and put in motion a plan to fake Teresa's death to escape the narco life. The couple succeeds and is shown to live happily after a time jump of four years.
- Camila Vargas: James serves as Camila's right hand for years. He is the only person in her cartel who questions her and offers differing point of views, because they respect each other and she values his opinion. Camila tries to manipulate James by putting him and Teresa at odds with each when she shows higher trust in Teresa's newly found cartel abilities. After James rescues Isabela, he asks Camila for a cut of the money they received from Devon Finch and they part on good terms. In season 3 Camila makes a snide comment about James going to work and sharing a house and a bed with Teresa3x06, However, later when she needs their help to save Isabela, she admits she misses having James by her side as their relationship remains one of mutual respect.
- Kelly Anne Van Awken: Kelly Anne ran the winery for Teresa, though she didn't really have a hand in the cartel side of the business. After discovering that she was the mole, James pretends to kill Kelly Anne to spare Pote from having to do it, while in reality he lets her escape. On the finale James saves pregnant Kelly Anne as Pote is unable to come to her rescue.
- Kim Brown: James had a 'kept woman' relationship with Kim, and he spoiled her.1x05 He says passively that sometimes he'd like to kill one person who lives in the building they're standing in front of, meaning Kim. After killing the Birdman, James calls Kim to join him in his hideout trailer as he expects retaliation. Kim is not happy with James's life in the cartel and due to the complete silence and tone of their final scene together, it is suggested that they have broken up.1x11
- King George: James doesn't seem to like George, calling him a lunatic,2x01 but they have to work together in order to ship Camila's product and later as part of Teresa's organization. George often comes up with nicknames for James, and James appears annoyed but resigned to having to deal with him. James goes to rescue George from Cortez.3x12
- Devon Finch: James teams up with Devon after Camila and Teresa leave Texas. Devon is the one that wants him to kill Mark Douglas, even though James thinks he's innocent. This prompts James to go seek out Teresa, who believes in doing things a better way. James agrees to work with the CIA, which Devon is revealed to be part of, in order to protect Teresa.
- Guero Davila: James dislikes Guero. He's an egoist, a rat, puts Teresa in danger, and is overall an idiot and behaves like a child. However, James doesn't kill Guero in Bolivia despite Camila's orders, and he later helps bury Guero after his death.
- Pote Galvez: James and Pote have ups and downs as they work first for Camila and then for Teresa. The two men each love Teresa in their own way and both remain by her side till the end. Pote wrongly blames James for being the mole in season 3 which leads to the break up of Teresa and James's relationship. In season 5 Pote redeems himself by sharing with James events that occurred during his absence and their effect on Teresa, which results in James not leaving Teresa's operation. James respects Pote and on the finale after having saved Kelly Anne twice and having proven to Pote that he actually loves Teresa, Pote calls him' brother'.
- James enters the ladies' bathroom and speaks to Teresa who is in a stall: I wanna show you something.Teresa to James:I am trying to pee!
- I've seen a lot of girls in my time who are trouble. And you... are trouble. - James to Teresa
- Between us, I've got a plan for a future. And it doesn't include getting killed by crossfire meant for you. Don't expect to get lucky again. - James to Teresa
- Teresa: Camila grows, so do you.James: I don't have to own the building. I just want a few bricks.
- You can tell yourself whatever you want, Teresa, but you couldn't have saved him. And if I let you try, all you would have done was expose what I'm doing, and I'm not gonna let that happen. Don't look away. That's your world now. That's your world now. That's your world. -James after Eric kills the man
- James to John, his Florida buddy who they plan to rob (on the phone):Did he have beady eyes like two piss holes in the snow? The guy in question who is sitting in the car with James shows him his middle finger.
- Teresa to James after the horse races: You are a good person James!. James to Teresa: There's no good or bad in this business, there's win or lose, live or die.
- James to Teresa: We are in this together. It's on us!
- James to Teresa: That thing you are trying to keep alive inside of you, that's what's gonna get you killed!
- James, to one of the Texas Border Patrol members:You think that makes you a tough guy putting your hands on women...you're just a fucking coward!
- Teresa to James, Galveston bust: How are we going to get out of here? James to Teresa: We are not! You are!
- James to Guero and Leo in the coke bar in La Paz speaking about meeting El Santo's contact: Why don't we just meet at the police station, give them a challenge?
- Guero: Yeah, who's the one trying to steal another man's woman? James: You fucking child. This is business. But I guess if you were a real man, she wouldn't have to beg to keep you alive.
- When I was in Afghanistan, some of the guys used to say there's a different god for soldiers, one that judges hearts instead of deeds. - James to Teresa in the first dreamscape
- James, to Boaz who is giving his parrot tequila: Is that safe for a parrot?
- Guero: You tried to kill [Teresa] James: I was 15 feet away from her. I've never missed a target from that distance in my life. And I would never hurt her like you did.
- James to Teresa when she askes for half of El Santo's coke: The only thing you are gonna get from me is a bullet!
- James to Teresa in the warehouse in Malta: Since the first day we met, I've been trying to keep you alive. Whether you wanna believe it or not, I'm still trying to.
- Teresa to James, under siege in the Winery: The cabinet with the guns behind me! James to Teresa: There's too many, we won't make it! Teresa to James: Then we don't make it!
- James to Pote: Don't forget the $1000 bucks you owe me! Pote to James: What $1000 bucks? James shoots the farthest beer bottles. Pote gives him the cash pissed.
- James to Teresa, at the reception for the Waterfront property: It's been quite the ride!
- James to Teresa regarding taking Kostya out: It's a suicide. You won't let me do it. Why should I let you?
- James is shot in the left shoulder while trying to retrieve the stolen $2.5 million.1x07
- James is shot in the right shoulder while hiding from La Capitana's soldiers.2x06
- James is tortured for information by Cortez via electrocution.2x08
- James is shot in the lower abdomen by a member of the Russian kill team and after driving himself to her warehouse to warn Teresa, he collapses in front of his car bleeding from his middle.4x13
- James is shot in the shoulder when taking pictures for Devon to convince him Teresa's ashes have been spread in Mexico. He drives to Little Rock wounded to save Kelly Anne.5x10
Times James Saves Teresa
- At the Dallas airport when they are delivering the coke in the faulty balloons by squirting soap from the dispenser in her mouth to help her throw up the remaining three balloons before they dissolve. 1x02
- In Dallas, in the parking garage at the busted coke shipment handover when he tells her to either jump or die and she jumps. 1x06
- In Dallas, at the horse races of the cartel families, when he stops Castilla’s men . 2x02
- In the desert when he splits her leg after she is bitten by a scorpion. 2x03
- In the desert when he gives himself up to the Texas Border Patrol to give her a head start to escape. 2x03
- In Galveston, at the port when he goes into the shootout giving her a head start to escape. 2x04
- In La Paz, Bolivia, in the coke bar when he yells at Guero to find pills that can slow her heart down when she is about to overdose. 2x05
- In Malta when he rescues her in his car from the bombed café. 3x02
- In Malta when he jumps through the window in her warehouse and fights off the sicario who is about to shoot her. 3x02
- In the bank in Malta when he shoots down the bank guard aiming at Teresa when Pote misses due to his hand injury. 3x03
- In Malta when he has done reconnaissance and knows there is an airport where the group escapes Rocco De La Pena’s men. 3x03
- In Phoenix when he shoots sheriff Mayo in the back before Mayo can hit Teresa with an axe as Pote misses the shot due to his hand injury.3x04
- In the winery in Phoenix when he gives himself up to Devon and his men so that Devon would leave Teresa in peace. 3x05
- In the shootout at the Imala clinic in Mexico when Teresa and Guero are being chased by Cortez and his soldiers. 3x06
- In the winery in Phoenix when he disarms Pecas’s sicario when Teresa, who has not slept for 2 days and is acting crazy, is targeted by Pecas. 3x07
- In Phoenix when he sacrifices himself and goes to work for Devon Finch to protect Teresa and her organization. 3x13
- In NOLA when he arrives wounded to warn her that there is kill team out for her. 4x13
- In NOLA when he kills all of Boaz’s men in the ambush after their visit to Dumas when Dumas refuses to do business with Teresa. 5x07
- In NYC, in the shootout at Kostya’s tea house despite Pote’s sudden arrival. 5x09
- In Belize when using his excellent sniper skills, he makes faking her death and disappearance possible. 5x09
Notes & Trivia
- James's character is based on the Novel character Santiago (Teresa's love interest whom she meets in Spain and who teaches her everything about the drug transport business). QOTS has kept the name in a modified form. The old Spanish form of the name James is 'Yago', while 'Sant' means Saint. Thus Santiago literally means “Saint James.”
- James is the one that hired the chemist whose balloons/bags kept exploding, causing the death of Aveline. Aveline's death and the subsequent need for a new mule created an opportunity for Teresa to volunteer as a mule, rather than be prostituted by Camila's cartel. He feels guilty for this, and tries to force Teresa to throw up the cocaine when he thinks that they're out of time.1x02
- James isn't religious.1x02
- James keeps guns, including a sniper rifle, in the hallway closet of Kim's apartment.1x05
- James agreed to take Guero back to work in the winery despite knowing this may put an end to his romance with Teresa in order not to upset her. 3x06
- James doesn't like to take credit:
- when in the jungle Guero tells him he kept Teresa alive James responds that she kept herself alive 2x06
- when enjoying a bottle of wine with Teresa to celebrate one month of successful operation of the Winery and the mail order cocaine, Teresa says "We did it", while James responds "No, you did it." 3x05
- When James has decided to leave the Phoenix operation and Teresa begs him to stay, she says that he helped built this business and he should not leave it behind. 3x12