The Line Becomes a River – Book Review

jalbmblog.riverFrancisco Cantú’s The Line Becomes a River (Riverhead Books, 2018) took me on a journey to specific locales I’ve never been to. Even so, for me, they were familiar places. Working as a bilingual pastor for the past thirty years in Latin America and Texas, I’ve crossed many borders in the Americas – South, Central, and North – and have worked in close proximity with many who have done the same.

Border crossing, as Cantú discloses, encompasses much more than physical dimensions, but spiritual ones as well.

Cantú was raised in SW Arizona by his Mexican-American mom, a national park ranger. After graduating from college, he returned to the Sonoran desert. He signed up to be a border patrol cop, against his mother’s wishes. The next four years, he worked the border area that Northern Mexico shares with Arizona and New Mexico – where the border consists of mostly straight lines – and with Texas – where the border flows as a river.

The book, a huge seller and winner of the 2018 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, has created significant controversy on both sides of the political spectrum. On the far left, migrant rights’ activists have disrupted Cantú’s book signings and others, like his own mother, find police and military vocations objectionable. On the far right, those who have a penchant to refer to migrants as “illegals” have flooded book review sites with 1-star ratings for Cantú’s work. Predictably, many of these “reviewers” admit to not even having read the book as they slavishly follow through with their self-imposed ideological sense of duty.

I read all of the book’s 250 pages, and I’m thankful I did.

The Line Becomes a River is an excellent memoir-of-sorts and a stark depiction of US-Mexican border reality. It’s honest, unflinching, descriptive, raw in spots, and honest again. As evidenced by upset reactionaries on either side of the political spectrum, this book can be difficult to digest emotionally.

But isn’t this one of the main reasons we why read – to be exposed to another’s reality? Too bad that Cantú’s hard-won reality doesn’t fit with his upset reviewers preconceived notions of “the way things should be.” It’s a complex world. Cantú exposes a part of the world that many – most especially a current president – don’t understand. As we read, we enter into a profound conversation with this author on the highly significant topic of immigration.

Author Francisco Cantú – raised in this borderland, the blood of ancestors from both sides of the border coursing through his veins – makes the conversation intimate and personal in Part 3 of the book. He befriends a Mexican who has lived and worked in the US more than twenty years. This Mexican national, the married father of two adolescents, lacks legal status. His story is typical, unique, and ultimately heartbreaking. The line that becomes a river – the border – bisects his family, and Cantú details its cutting effect. “[T]he desert has been weaponized against migrants, and lays bare the fact that the hundreds who die there every year are losing their lives by design.”

Cantú’s writing throughout embraces paradox – the ability to entertain two seemingly contradictory thoughts at once. He knows that the United States’ immigration policy – or lack thereof as concerns many workers without legal status – is a joke. This books serves to expose, in its own way, a society that has an addiction to cheap labor – 400 years strong – and won’t admit to it.

Those who critique Cantú for not including more immigrant voices in his book don’t persuade me. Other books such as Enrique’s Journey and The Distance Between Us are but a few of many good examples that include these important voices that add to the conversation. But Cantú’s voice – again, like a bridge that connects two sides – is unique and necessary.

Our society today could be renamed “The Binary States of America,” the place where twenty-five years of increasing hyper-partisanship has hollowed out the middle. Ya basta – as Cantú would write – enough already. It’s time to purposely rebuild the center. By its accurate depiction of two sides of the immigration dilemma, The Line Becomes a River places itself squarely in the middle of this necessary work of reconstruction.


balm.cover.2Tim/T. Carlos Anderson – I’m a Protestant minister and Director of Community Development for Austin City Lutherans (ACL), an organization of fourteen ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregations in Austin. I’m also the author of There is a Balm in Huntsville: A True Story of Tragedy and Restoration from the Heart of the Texas Prison System (Walnut Street Books, April 2019).

 

Check out my new author website: http://www.tcarlosanderson.com.

DACA, Immigration Reform, and a just a little bit more Sarcasm

Lady Liberty has beckoned for more than a century, but now it’s time to give back – or better said, time to expel. President Trump’s uncharacteristic wishy-washy revocation of DACA, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s enthusiastic endorsement of the revocation, and the House Republicans’ steady inaction on immigration reform could result in the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Latino youth (and others). American society, over the centuries, has given slaves, migrants, child laborers, and foreigners the opportunity – that’s right – to build the nation through their blood, sweat, and tears. Yeah, legalized slavery is a thing of the past thanks to the stinkin’ abolition movement and that obstinate president named Lincoln. And the days of kids getting their fingers stuck in cotton-spinning looms and coal mine breaker boys getting their lungs full of coal dust are over because of the stinkin’ rise of unions, child reform labor regulations, and compulsory education laws. The problem of all these horrible DACA recipients in the country couldn’t possibly be one of our own doing, could it? Two words: Cheap labor. Five more words: Oh how we love it.

Coal mine breaker boys – circa 1910 – photo by Lewis Hines

Without America’s long-standing love affair with cheap labor, why would the parents of these DACA recipients have come here in the first place to do their unpatriotic duty from the bottom rungs to make America great?

Remember the foreign and migrant workers who laid rail track in the western territories and states? Lucky them! Today their vocational descendants pick fruit in the south and west and harvest wheat in the Plains, slaughter pigs and cows in the Midwest, clean up restaurants and office buildings and cut grass and trim trees all over the country. Why give them – and their children – a path to citizenship with legal rights and protections when we can continue to exploit them for what we need so dearly – unprotected and loosely regulated cheap labor? How the hell are my wife and I supposed to enjoy relatively cheap California wine ($10-15) if it becomes more expensive ($25) because some damn Mexican grape-pickers need to be paid a living wage? WTFlagon.

If you must know the specifics: DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – was a policy put into place by the Obama administration in 2012, after a do-nothing Congress did nothing on immigration reform. Close to 800,000 applicants have been approved since that time with the majority of these living in California and Texas. And now the great American president has given a green light to AG Sessions to pull the plug on the program.

All of these horrendous “Dreamers,” who came to the USA on the backs of their parents – get the hell out! Thank God for the Texas Attorney General (currently indicted for securities fraud) doubling as a fine Christian man, standing up for the US Constitution with a threat to sue the president if DACA is not revoked. The poor, tattered Constitution is under fierce attack from Dreamers who go to school, work, and make their families stronger. Hell, some of them even go to church. It’s so entirely un-American of them – if only they would learn how to smoke weed and binge drink like a lot of white kids from the suburbs do, while cruising around in cars provided by Mommy and Daddy. That’s the American way.

A musician in Austin that I’m fond of (James McMurtry) sings, “We can’t help what came before.” These damn Dreamers, if they’re so smart, they should have known to do something about their status before their underachieving parents brought them here.

Another American musician I’m fond of (Lou Reed – RIP) sang of the aforementioned Lady Liberty: “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor and I’ll piss on ’em. That’s what the Statue of Bigotry says.” Reed was a New Yorker. As you can tell by his lyric, he knew, just like the great American president knows, that Lady Liberty was soooo nineteenth century. It’s about time we start living up to the updated credo, championed by the really, really rich president from New York: Put America first, baby. Go home, wherever that is, you damn Dreamers, and quit ruining our – not yours, but our – country.

We’ve come a long way from the dark days of the summer of 2013 when fourteen Republican senators joined fifty-four Democratic senators to approve an immigration reform bill. A bipartisan group of eight senators championed the bill, but, thank God, the House Republicans wouldn’t join in the apostasy. The bill died before the president who wasn’t even born here could sign it.

The problems America faces are too many to list in a blog post designed to run 750 words. Suffice it to say, getting rid of close to a million Dreamers would set the country back on the path to greatness because expulsion would get at the very root of every single one of the problems – again, too many to mention – that beset us. And hell, once we get rid of all these stinkin’ Dreamers, we’ll feel much better about ourselves as a society. Probably, maybe.

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Lou Reed was on to something, but for the moment I’m going to call Lady Liberty “The Statue of Irony.” It’s times like these that we need her torch of enlightenment (ironic, isn’t it?) to shine ever so brightly!

James McMurtry, “Iolanthe,” Where’d You Hide the Body? (1995)

Lou Reed, “Dirty Boulevard,” New York (1989)

 

T. Carlos Anderson is a pastor and writer based in Austin, Texas. His first book, Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, is distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago). JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an e-book. It’s also available on Nook and iBook/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide is now available. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más –está disponible en Amazon y el sitio web www.blueocotillo.com!