The campus-wide summer reading for the 2019-2020 academic year is The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border, by Francisco Cantú.
Francisco Cantú was raised in West Texas by the daughter of a Mexican immigrant who worked as a guide in a national park. Attending American University in Washington D.C., he studied international relations and became obsessed with studying the borderlands where he grew up. As graduation approached, a job with the U.S. Border Patrol presented itself as a way to experience the realities of the border for himself. He rationalized, “I’ll never understand it unless I’m close to it.” The job seemed to be a natural step toward doing policy work or immigration law.
Joining the agency at age 23, Cantú served as an agent for the Border Patrol from 2008-2012 in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas—but the experience failed to answer his questions. In a recent interview, Cantú attests to the nuanced nature of the border issue, saying, “If we’re going to have any meaningful conversation…it has to start from a place that recognizes this as a deeply, deeply complex issue, regardless of race. I was attracted to the border as a way of getting answers to all these questions I had, but after all these years, I only have more questions.”1
In addition to the growing number of questions, working with the Patrol began to take a toll on Cantú’s psyche. The Line Becomes a River, much like his surreal dreams, presents fragments of Cantú’s experience at the border. Aside from the historical information that is interspersed in the narrative, there is little of the economic or political context that surrounds immigration policy. The book is primarily about Cantú himself. It is a memoir of a young man attempting to understand identity and violence, and discovering a human connection that is stronger than the border.
You may purchase this edition of the campus-wide summer reading, The Line Becomes a River, through the Luther College Book Shop or other retailers (ISBN-13: 978-0735217713). You will need to complete your reading of The Line Becomes a River before you arrive on campus on Saturday, August 31.
1. Sara Cutaia, “Francisco Cantú on the Reality and Unreality of Borders,” Chicago Review of Books, February, 2018.