Updated: Sep 18, 2018
I recently read The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu. It is a beautifully written work by a young man who had been in the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Southern Arizona for four years, but it is punctuated by the harshness that he is confronting in the brutal desert. Most of us can never imagine having to leave all behind to seek freedom from the oppression and fear lived under in Mexico and Central America, and to do so not knowing whether you'll live or die.
Throughout his journey Cantu peels away at the emotional contours of his time in the CBP moving the reader through his initial training as an agent, to his time in the field and an office-based intelligence division, and finally to his attempt to aid a Mexican immigrant who he had befriended while working as a barista in a coffee bar with the full knowledge of the world he'd left behind in the CBP.
As I continue to read the stories in the news about the tightening of immigration policies, and the impact on human beings I am often reflecting upon Cantu's memoir. Having recently retired as a teacher who taught in a middle school where fear of la migra seemed to be a thin, ever-present veil throughout the campus, I was well aware of its aura.
That some or more of my students had parents or grandparents who took the harrowing trek through the desert to get here is almost unfathomable. Yet the need to be in a safe place overrode the dangers that lurked. However, the fear of living in the shadows now pervades their lives.
Working through this immigration dilemma is certainly complicated. It is rife with extremes and extremists weighing in. It is also rife with fear for those living through this era of what seems to me to be one where we are somehow missing the human thread that should bind us all in any equation on how to address the problem.
The Line Becomes a River is an important 'read' if for no other reason than for you to understand the border, and what it has done to so many lives including those who enforce it. Cantu weaves his story as only one who lived it can, and I ask the same question that he does near the end of the book: "What would redemption look like?" The same can be asked of us living through this excessively tormented time in human history.