Barrio Libre

Criminalizing States and Delinquent Refusals of the New Frontier

Barrio Libre

Book Pages: 200 Illustrations: 5 illustrations Published: June 2012

Author: Gilberto Rosas

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Chicanx and Latinx Studies, Latin American Studies > Mexico

The city of Nogales straddles the border running between Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. On the Mexican side, marginalized youths calling themselves Barrio Libre (Free 'Hood) employ violence, theft, and bribery to survive, often preying on undocumented migrants who navigate the city's sewer system to cross the US-Mexico border. In this book, Gilberto Rosas draws on his in-depth ethnographic research among the members of Barrio Libre to understand why they have embraced criminality and how neoliberalism and security policies on both sides of the border have affected the youths' descent into Barrio Libre.

Rosas argues that although these youths participate in the victimization of others, they should not be demonized. They are complexly and adversely situated. The effects of NAFTA have forced many of them, as well as other Mexicans, to migrate to Nogales. Moving fluidly with the youths through the spaces that they inhabit and control, he shows how the militarization of the border actually destabilized the region and led Barrio Libre to turn to increasingly violent activities, including drug trafficking. By focusing on these youths and their delinquency, Rosas demonstrates how capitalism and criminality shape perceptions and experiences of race, sovereignty, and resistance along the US-Mexico border.


“A theoretically sophisticated study, albeit sustained with ample ethnographic detail, often communicated via precise vignettes and anecdotes. A short study, digestible over several sessions, it is accessible to advanced undergraduates though particularly useful in graduate level classes focusing on ethnicity and immigration, borders, Mexico and the United States, among others, and should find a place in courses in anthropology, sociology, political science, international studies and other areas.” — Leigh Binford, Social Forces

“This book would be a great choice for a graduate seminar on violence, conflict, immigration, human rights, the U.S.-Mexico border, or political geography, as it is rich with theoretical interest and ripe for challenging discussion. . . . Barrio Libre is an excellent book that shines a bright light through the dark passageways running under the Mexico-U.S. border and, like it or not, shows us what is there.” — Margaret Wilder, Journal of Latin American Geography

“This book will be of interest to a wide range of scholars interested in street violence, state violence, borders and sovereignty, and youth subcultures.” — Contemporary Sociology

“The strength of [Rosas's] work is in his ability to analyze with authority and depth both sides of the border politic that historically gave birth to the intense violence that exists today. He deftly articulates the dehumanizing practices of both Mexican and U.S. economies and powers that practice neoliberalism, which has led to the new low-intensity warfare and militarized policing prevalent at this cross-border region.” — Cynthia Bejarano, The Americas

“Gilberto Rosas’ Barrio Libre offers its readers a thoughtful and complex (re)theorizing of the Mexico/US border, the various subjects that inhabit it, and the violence that has become so much a part of securing the border and the nations it divides.” — Cristina Jo Pérez, Powerlines

“Gilberto Rosas’ ethnography Barrio Libre about youths on the Mexican side of the border is painful, forceful and asks the reader to try to hear and understand a complex and vexing circumstance.”  — Anthropology of Biopolitics blog

“The concise book uses well-chosen vignettes to show the reader ethnographically and theoretically what the point of view of the youth in Barrio Libre can teach scholars about contemporary racial and national politics with regard to migration and the construction of national security threats in Mexico and the United States.” — Connie McGuire, PoLAR

"Scholars from a range of disciplines will find several valuable insights in this text. Latin Americanists will appreciate the rich and meaningful references to the borderlands... Scholars working on new forms of humanism will be drawn to Rosas’ ability to draw out the textures of fragile human forms of life by means of an ethnographic attention to imminent death, framed complimentary to other ideas of slow death and cruel optimism."  — Emily A. Lynch, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

"Gilberto Rosas's exploration of the seamy underbelly of neoliberal state sovereignty in the sewer tunnels beneath the US-Mexico border takes us to a vexed and murky place, both ethnographically and theoretically. His work invites us to consider provocative and urgent questions about the deep complicity between policing and criminality, and the racialized relegation of human life to abjection and unnatural death on the new frontier. Rosas's insistence upon directing our critical gaze to a dark and dank place of subjection, power, and violence ought to instigate vital new lines of debate in the study of border enforcement and subjectivity within the wild zones of state power." — Nicholas De Genova, coeditor of The Deportation Regime: Sovereignty, Space, and the Freedom of Movement

"In this raw and compelling ethnography, Gilberto Rosas grapples with the violence, racism, and determined attempts by border youth to build their own sense of freedom in the cage of the US-Mexico border and its economy of escalating inequalities. Barrio Libre is a significant contribution to border and borderlands studies, one that enriches our understanding of the lives of youth." — Lynn Stephen, author of Transborder Lives: Indigenous Oaxacans in Mexico, California, and Oregon


Availability: In stock
Price: $24.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Gilberto Rosas is Assistant Professor in the Departments of Anthropology and Latina/Latino Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. The Criminalizing Depths of State and Other Shit 3

1. Other Nightmares and the Rise of the New Frontier 29

2. Against Mexico: Thickening Delinquency of the New Frontier 55

3. Low-Intensity Reinforcements: Cholos, Chúntaros, and the "Criminal" Abandonments of the New Frontier 73

Interlude. Post-September 11 at the New Frontier 89

4. Against the United States: The Violent Inaugurations and Delinquent Exceptions of the New Frontier 95

5. Oozing Barrio Libre and the Pathological Ends of Life 115

Interlude. Nervous Cocks at the New Frontier 133

Conclusion. The New Frontier Thickens 137

Notes 147

Bibliography 163

Index 183
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2014 ALLA Book Award (presented by the Association of Latina and Latino Anthropologists section of the American Anthropological Association)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5237-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5225-9
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