Incarceration Nation

Barrios Unidos

A Book Review By Jose H. Villarreal

The History of Barrios Unidos

By Frank de Jesus Acosta,

Arte Publico Press 2007, 253 pages

I was eager to read this book because, having been born and raised in San Jose, California, and, as I had been aware of Barrios Unidos (BU) activity in the area, I wanted to learn who created BU, what was their intent, did they succeed and where was BU heading. Being a Chicano, I take interest in those organizations that are actively struggling for Aztlan, especially those that have been around for decades.

It’s important to point out that the handful of main leaders of BU derives from the Lumpen, or proletariat. They were once “gang members” or child field workers. They were raised in survival mode and yet were able to rise above their circumstances to help their Nation and Chicano youth.

Some of the main leaders were themselves involved in the Chicano movement of the ’60s and ’70s, but they were all shaped by the movimiento—we were all are shaped by those before us.

Daniel “Nane” Alejandrez is the founder of BU. He is the child of migrant farmworkers. He grew up in the barrios of West Fresno. He was drafted into the U.S. war on Vietnam in 1968. In this sense his story reminded me of that of Boriqua political prisoner, Oscar Lopez Rivera, who also went to Vietnam and came back dedicating his life to his nation. Although Alejandrez chose a different method, his heart was still in helping his people.

What I have always found interesting about BU is that, unlike most mass organizations, BU chose to focus on Chicano Lumpen, and in the tradition of the Black Berets, Brown Berets and Crusade for Justice, they also correctly understand that we will free our nation through our most potentially revolutionary social forces—Chicano Lumpen. I have seen the power of Brown Lumpen, even within the pintas. Indeed, I have seen what happens when Brown Lumpen are mobilized, as in the 2013 prison hunger strikes in Califas. The fact that 80 percent of the SHU (Special Housing Unit) prisoners are Chicano prisoners reveals that the 2013 strike was largely a Chicano strike. The tens-of-thousands that made history could not have done so without Chicanos. Any future revolution on these shores that free us all will mirror this reality because we live on a Brown continent.

Another thing I like about BU is its promotion of “Indigenismo” which is our indigenous essence. They correctly raise up our indigenous reality of who we are as people, rather than our colonial trauma. Some who even consider themselves revolutionary uphold this colonial trauma as our culture. This slave mentality chooses to love the “gifts” our colonizer left us.

Sustain potential and
educate our future generations

BU relies on its Barrio Economic Zone (BEZ) model where they acquire land; create stimulation of small businesses through acquisition of property assets, all to develop the community into being self-reliant, creating new assets to generate capital. Of course generating money to fund independent institutions would be good, but doing so simply to become Brown capitalists would be bad. I don’t know enough about BU to determine how their economic venture is going. I would say if people are giving themselves fat salaries then it’s a bad thing. One way to guard against corruption is to ensure that the leaders of BU are only paid as much as the highest paid worker in BU; this would help.

I can see BU attracting doubters and critics. There has been no successful mass organization or revolutionary group of the oppressed Nations within U.S. borders to date, which has liberated the people. The unique conditions of oppressed nations existing within the super parasite means we must constantly devise new methods to grow, expand, and struggle for liberation. One thing I have learned from reading about the lessons of guerrilla warfare, and that is that one way to victory against a dominant opponent is to use the enemies’ weapons against itself. Looking at it in this aspect, what BU is doing can prove fruitful by using its existence in the First World to take advantage of the financial incentives in order to empower the Chicano nation, educate and mobilize the Raza to move us all closer to liberating Aztlan.

Its very possible that BU may have put together the formula for oppressed nations to use at this point and within the First World, time will tell. This is a great book to learn the history and future of one of Aztlans essential organizations in today’s struggles to develop our nation and fuel our resistance.