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Waking Up

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Hannes Zacharias
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Hannes Zacharias (left) and his brother (second from right)

I’m Hannes Zacharias from Lenexa for High Plains Public Radio, Radio Reader’s Book Club. The book is “The Line Becomes a River, Dispatches from the border” by Francisco Cantu’. “A book that whips across your face like a sandstorm, embedding bits of the desert into your shin that, like it or not, you’ll carry forward” says the San Francisco Chronicle.

The book describes in striking and disturbing detail the reality of the current state of life on the US southern border for those enforcing and circumventing OUR immigration policies.

I’m Hannes Zacharias from Lenexa for High Plains Public Radio, Radio Reader’s Book Club. The book is “The Line Becomes a River, Dispatches from the border” by Francisco Cantu’. “A book that whips across your face like a sandstorm, embedding bits of the desert into your shin that, like it or not, you’ll carry forward” says the San Francisco Chronicle.

The book describes in striking and disturbing detail the reality of the current state of life on the US southern border for those enforcing and circumventing OUR immigration policies.

Cantu’ is ‘ringing a bell’ to awaken us to the impact our laws have on real human beings. He recounts his personal commitment to join the US Border Patrol as a way to, naively, help people who have chosen to risk their lives to cross from Mexico to the US seeking better lives for themselves and their families. How the experience of seeing dead, nameless, dismembered bodies rotting in the desert changes him, making him numb to his involvement and producing psychotic nightmares. How the system we have invented and perpetuate tears families apart and how greater enforcement of these dehumanizing policies only strengthens organized crime and personal resolve.

We have heard these phrases many times before but by reading this book, they take on vivid and irrepressible visions and meaning. The truth can often do that for us.

Snippets in the book make me reflect on my family’s immigration to Kansas in 1952 from Germany especially with the notation of how different generations react to being transplanted in a new country. How immigrant families strain to adapt and fit into the new society, how the first generation works to erase all connections to the previous culture, and how the second generation wants to reclaim parts of the culture to present something unique about themselves in this ‘melting pot’ of a society.

So it was with my family - trying, at first, to encourage me (the first generation) to speak German, then abandoning the effort so I would not stand out. In Dodge City, however, being a member of a doctor’s family held a different station in society than other ‘darker skinned’ immigrants. Standing out as a German was OK, sort of, given the US policies towards Germans as we began to fight the ‘Cold War’ and win the space race with Russia -- so much so that I would wear my lederhosen -- German (really Austrian) leather shorts, without the shoulder straps--on a regular basis. This gave me a unique positive identity given US polices and timing.

Twenty years earlier, we would have been ‘community outcasts’, but in 1962, connected to Wernher von Braun, we were A-OK. We Americans are a fickle citizenry embracing immigrants from China and Japan to help build the railroads, from Germany and Russia to populate the Great Plains, and from Mexico to harvest fruits and vegetables only to turn them away when the political winds change. But when political winds change, people get hurt and sometimes die.

This is our current reality as Cantu’ shows us. Through our policies, we have dehumanized people who seek what we, or our previous families, wanted and obtained. Humans seek better lives for themselves and their families and are willing to die to attaint it, just like us.

Cantu’ is ringing a bell to wake us up to the nameless human carnage occurring today on our southern border, dictated through our national policies. Policies of our own making that we choose to ignore or change. As paraphrased by countless authors --ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

The question is: Will we hear it?

From here to wherever the river takes me. This is Hannes Zacharias in Lenexa, and you are listening to the High Plains Public Radio, Radio Reader’s Book Club.

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