© 2021
background_fid.jpg
In touch with the world ... at home on the High Plains
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Threat or Asset?

2021Fall-bookbyte048.jpg
Susan Harbage Page, Bridging Borders
/
Cantú describes barriers designed to protect “us” from “them” yet the individuals crossing have stories of vulnerable human beings not necessarily guilty of any crimes other than crossing the border.

This is Nicole English coming to you from the Sociology Department at Fort Hays State University for HPPR's Book-Bytes. This is a discussion of the book, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border, by Francisco Cantú.

This 2018 book gives a very unabashed view of what working as a Border Agent along the Mexican Border is like, and the experiences the author relates to readers illustrate his own moral struggles with the work. The author, Francisco Cantú, is a child of Mexican immigrants, and draws upon his personal experiences as a border agent for four years in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, to create a touching and emotionally trying memoire.

This is Nicole English coming to you from the Sociology Department at Fort Hays State University for HPPR's Book-Bytes. This is a discussion of the book, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border, by Francisco Cantú.

This 2018 book gives a very unabashed view of what working as a Border Agent along the Mexican Border is like, and the experiences the author relates to readers illustrate his own moral struggles with the work. The author, Francisco Cantú, is a child of Mexican immigrants, and draws upon his personal experiences as a border agent for four years in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, to create a touching and emotionally trying memoire.

The book consists of a collection of stories describing encounters the author has had with co-workers and their interactions with immigrants crossing the border (as defined by the river, the Rio Grande). The immigrant stories are often heartbreaking and haunting. These narratives were life-changing, not only for the immigrants, but also for author himself, and I would venture to say, anyone who reads these stories.

Cantú describes in straightforward language how most border agents are not from the area in which they work. He also describes the militarization of the Border Patrol, the indoctrination of agents, and the characterization of immigrants as being hardened criminals and identified by dehumanizing language. These characterizations have the result of creating a distance between the agents and the migrants, reinforcing the ideas of “us” versus “them” and that migrants are seen as a threat to society, rather than as potential assets.

To former military, who become border agents, the southern border becomes the new front in a new war, the war on immigration. The irony is that the border is seen as a barrier to protect “us” from “them,” yet the migrants themselves are typically very vulnerable human beings, including pregnant women and children, not guilty of any crimes, other than crossing the border.

The message and experience of reading this book remind me of Joseph Wambaugh’s Lines and Shadows, or the film, Frontera. Both these narratives describe the experiences of immigrants and their interactions with people living along the border. Cantú’s book, through its bare portrayals of his own experiences and observations, personalizes these issues in a very intimate way.

Thinking about these stories has made me think back to my own childhood, living on a ranch in Texas in the Rio Grande Valley. Our domestic help, Nana, seemed like one of the family to me. When my parents divorced when I was six years old, we lost touch with her, and I missed her terribly. Now as an adult, I think back about her crossing the river every day to work in our house and take care of me. Even though it was a different time, it makes me think of what she must have had to endure. With regret now, I realize how little I actually knew of her own home life, her own family, and her needs.

This is a book that I would recommend for anyone who is interested in social history, historical narratives, and issues related to immigration and social class. It is a compelling read but be forewarned that the stories may affect readers deeply and one that makes you think.

In any event, good reading! Again, this is Nicole English from the Sociology Department at Fort Hays State University wishing you happy Book-Bytes!

Tags

Fall 2021: RIVERS meandering meaning2021 Fall ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
Stay Connected