On June 1st, 2019, Cathy Stewart and Politics for the People members from across the country dialed in for a conversation with author Francisco Cantú about his book The Line Becomes A River: Dispatches from the Border.
Francisco Cantú served a a border patrol agent from 2008 to 2012. His book, The Line Becomes A River: Dispatches from the Border recounts his experiences working as an agent, as well as the emotional toll his work took on him.
The interview begins with an introduction from Cathy:
Cathy kicks off the interview asking, “What prompted you to join the border patrol after college?” Francisco describes how a mix of growing up near the border, studying border policy under the Bush administration, and feeling disconnected with the physical realities of the border pushed him towards enrolling in the border patrol.
Cathy brings up the subject of Francisco’s mother, asking “Could you share… what [your mother’s] concerns were and how the two of you navigated that terrain together…secondly, what her reaction has been to the book?” Francisco describes his mother’s questioning of his admittedly naive way of thinking, and her attempts at imparting her own experiences in an institution with him. He talks about her checking up on him, stating “She’s constantly calling me back to this person that I was when I first joined.”
Cathy then tells Francisco “I felt that I was being asked to come to my own set of conclusions and take that journey, and I wanted to ask you about that choice in how you brought us into the story.” Francisco reveals that his choice to force the reader into that position was somewhat deliberate.
Recalling a moment in the book where Francisco investigates two boys and the body of one of their uncles. “In the book, you share the story of meeting the two young boys…and it made me realize I don’t know how many lives are lost as people try to cross the border every year.” Francisco echos her realizations, saying “Far more migrants die in the desert than we realize or than we talk about in our discourse around the border.”
At this point in the interview, Cathy bring’s up the subject of Francisco’s friend José. “I wanted to ask you to share a little bit of your thinking in giving José the opportunity to speak directly in the book’s last chapter…I found this to be a very profound part of the book.”
Jenn Bullock, president of Independent Pennsylvanians, inquires about Francisco’s current relationship with José’s family, as well as his relationship with his former colleagues from the border patrol. In his response, Francisco defines the struggles that he sees José’s family grappling with, and recalls how all of the Border Patrol agents he’s been in contact with have been “supportive and encouraging about the book.” He even tells the story of a former colleague who insisted on apologizing to him, saying “I could tell…that you were having a hard time in some way…that something didn’t sit right with you. I never asked you about it, I never reached out to you, and I’m sorry for that.”
Steve Hough, the director of Florida Fair and Open Primaries, expresses the difficulty he had reading this book, as well as his distaste for the harsh criticism Francisco has received from some progressives. He discusses the concept of the “other” and how it’s become synonymous with the “enemy”. Describing the gap this association has caused in our society, Steve asks how Francisco views his critics and how he plans to bridge the divide between himself and those that have labeled him an “other”
Tiani Coleman, president of New Hampshire independent voters, comments on the book’s reminiscent effect on her as she recalls her own experience being born in Mexico, spending her teen years in Brownsville, Texas, where her father led a Spanish speaking religious congregation, and her family spent time helping immigrants. She poses the question “What is it that we can do to help more people who are cogs in the wheel of the institution?” In a response that juxtaposes Tiani’s hopeful sentiment, Francisco remarks that for many, leaving the border patrol “might not be possible.”
Dr. Jessie Fields, a practicing physician in Harlem, asks “How does working at the border and writing The Line Becomes a River inform what you will do next? Where do you go from here?” Francisco responds “My identity now and the work that I’m engaged in, and how I see myself, is as a writer.” He adds “I’m very interested, and continue to work around border issues.”
Harry Kresky, a poet and counsel to independent voting, asks “I was wondering what it is about this border, about this time…is there any place to go other than eliminating borders? How do we get out of this mess?” In response, Francisco describes a book he recently reviewed called The End of the Myth and how it centers on a “reductionist myth of the border, or of the frontier as this endless expanse in which the American identity can be rejuvenated.” Francisco goes on to say “Whenever we construct a myth…we’re setting a trap for ourselves. I think that the moment that we’re living in right now is all of the repercussions of that.”
Steve Richardson, a founding member of the Virginia Independent Voters Association, picks Fransisco’s brain saying “I’m interested in hearing what you would look for in immigration reform legislation.” In response, Francisco states, “I think one of the most important things is to decouple and de-link our notions of border security and immigration reform.”
You can listen to the full call below: