The Line Becomes a River
by Francisco Cantú
It is hard to name an issue that roils nations, including ours, more than immigration these days. We need clear thinking on respecting borders, enforcing laws, and managing immigration systems. We also need to honor humane consideration for the suffering of people before, during, and after the immigration process runs its course. Why both? Americans who believe in The Great American Experiment and honor our history know the answer to that question.
We see the stark contrast between these dimensions of immigration up close and personal in Mr. Cantú’s beautifully crafted story. We meet his earlier self as a Border Patrol Officer, his later self as his life takes a different direction, and his friend, José Martinez and his family as they struggle to assemble a life out of chaos.
But for our club, I would not have read this book. I am grateful for that. The story would not let me go. Most of the Amazon reviewers seem to share that sentiment.
Authenticity requires real exposure; otherwise it is a matter of second hand opinion, however thoughtful it may be. This book is authentic. In this quality, the author follows in the footsteps of other impressive writers we have met, such as Matthew Desmond (Evicted), Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer ($2.00 a Day), Elizabeth Rosenthal (An American Sickness), and Greg Orman (A Declaration of Independents). These authors speak from personal involvement in their subject that goes far beyond what most of us would attempt. I am in awe of such commitment.
The complexities of our immigration situation are mind boggling. The easy way out is either not to think about it or just accept ideological dogma. Mr. Cantú does not let us off so easily. He takes us into the real world, back into his inner world, and out again into a personal tragedy that is invulnerable to solution. He shares a subscript of personal struggle with his own feelings, the incomprehensible paradox of our immigration institutions, and the classic human engagement with deeply felt personal loyalties.
He does not let himself off easy. Nor us, either.
My first impression of Francisco is his encounter with animals: a mountain lion, a snake, and a little bird. Animals often reveal more about us than we tell ourselves. So it is with him.
Some find his sudden shift in narrative and lyric form unsettling; I found the excursions from reality, to musing, to personal conversation highly revealing. That is what life is actually like.
If there is one single insight to be gained from reading this book it is that our relationships with immigrants from south of the border are far more complex than we like to admit. There is more than one agenda to be satisfied in how we proceed; Francisco Cantú helps us understand what they look and feel like. No one needs to tell us that getting there isn’t going to be easy. Not getting there will be a renunciation of all we have stood for as we seek to make good on the promise of the founding fathers.
We read, of course, to become better informed. This book surely achieves that. We also sometimes read to figure out what kind of action makes sense. That also happened. As with most of us in this club, we place a high priority on achieving voting rights universally for independent voters. The book club offers us myriad answers to the the question of why we seek enfranchisement. Those answers lie in the lives we live as Americans and the values we hold dear—most of which require a combination of passion, intelligence, forbearance, persistence, and—yes—eventually, compromise, for sustainable resolution.
In this case, the power of forces at play at a personal and institutional level so artfully exposed by Francisco Cantú stimulated in me ideas of actions that might make a difference. I will share them soon with our two Senators from Arizona. If the ideas succeed in getting an audience and making a difference, I will blame Mr. Cantú. He would be justified in thinking that credit would be more appropriate. So, in fact, would I.
I can think of a lot of people I wish would read this book. Almost all of them are elected.
Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona. Al is a member of Independent Voting’s Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet, working to get the 2020 presidential primaries open to independents across the country.