Books

Former patrolman turned author personalizes border issues

Francisco Cantú plans presentations at the Harwood Museum and SOMOS

By Kathleen Steward
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 5/24/19

Francisco Cantú has written a memoir on immigration that will kick the legs out from underneath you.

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Books

Former patrolman turned author personalizes border issues

Francisco Cantú plans presentations at the Harwood Museum and SOMOS

Posted

Francisco Cantú has written a memoir on immigration that will kick the legs out from underneath you.

“The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border” is laser-sharp account of Cantú’s four-year enlistment, 2008-2012, as an agent for the United States Border Patrol.

Cantú will read from his book Friday (May 24), 7 p.m., in the Arthur Bell Auditorium at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux Street in Taos. In addition, he plans to speak about his current immigration activism projects, what he is currently writing and host a Q&A after his talk. Tickets are $20.

The next day, Saturday (May 25) from 10 a.m. until noon in the El Taoseño Room at 120 Civic Plaza Drive, he will participate in a free panel discussion moderated by SOMOS Executive Director Jan Smith. The event is co-sponsored by Taos Immigrant Allies, Las Cumbres and Taos United.

“He is very honest, this guy, it personalizes immigration for those of us who watch the news, who are bombarded with information,” Smith said.

What gives Cantú’s memoir substantial heft is his bold arc from academia at the age of 23 to the front line of the American Mexican border patrolling in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

“Look, I said, I spent four years away from home studying this place through facts, policy and history. I’m tired of reading. I want to exist outside, to know the reality of this border day in and day out,” writes Cantú in his award winning essay titled “Bajadas.”

Cantú, 33, is a third generation Mexican; he speaks fluent Spanish and grew up in the Southwest.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in international relations and Spanish. After his four-year enlistment with the U.S. Border Patrol, he received a Fulbright fellowship choosing to study European immigration issues at the University of Amsterdam. Cantú then went on the get his master’s degree in creative writing at the University of Arizona.
His essay “Bajadas” was selected for 2016 Best American Essays along side noted authors Joyce Carol Oats and Sebastian Yunger. He has been published in Harper’s, Guernica and American Life.

Make no mistake, Cantú struggled with his conscience during his four-year enlistment. In a Twitter rebuttal to left leaning critics of his book, he replies, “to be clear: during my years as a BP agent, I was complicit in perpetuating institutional violence and flawed deadly policy. My book is about acknowledging that, it’s about thinking through the ways we normalize violence and dehumanize migrants as individuals and as a society. I tried not to draw conclusions, but offer descriptions of what happened and a reflection of my state of mind.”

Despite the deeply troubling and disturbing reality of what Cantú experienced; he is measured in approach and response to the immigration maelstrom. While Cantú denounces Trump’s policies as being the worst yet, he does not give a pass to the Clinton, George W. Bush or Obama administrations. According to Cantú, Obama deported more people than any president proceeding him.

“The project of militarizing the border has really been a bi-partisan project so it’s not like I put blind faith in the democratic party to turn around all of the policies that have been causing a lot of pain and disappearance and violence on the border,” says Cantú.

The event is co-sponsored by Taos Immigrant Allies, Las Cumbres and Taos United.
“One thing that I’m excited about with the Taos event is the Saturday morning panel because I get to broaden my horizons. It’s because I live in Tucson and I’m pretty familiar with how things look there, but everything is different state to state, county to county” said Cantú.

Bonnie Golden, one of the panelists, is a founding member of Taos Immigrant Allies. She said the group started when it looked like Trump could actually win the 2016 election. In June of 2018, Golden went to Torneo, Texas to protest when U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement started to separate families.

“We were right outside the gates, we saw caravans of black SUVs moving children in the middle of the night. A reporter for CNN said, ‘you could see little heads in the SUVs.’”

Golden said TIA’s mission is to drill down and do what they can, and do it well within the Taos area. TIA also works with local advocates Jose and Vanessa Gonzales. “They have a wonderful connection with the immigrant community.”

Cantú volunteers with Kino Border Initiative, a bi-national migrant advocacy group based on both sides of the border in Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonoma, Mexico. His advocacy work is partially tied in with the Art For Justice grant awarded to him in the spring of 2018. For the most part he says he goes into the Eloy detention center in Arizona for bi-weekly visits with detained asylum seekers.

He coordinates a summer field study with the University of Arizona. Graduate students are tasked with on the ground field studies close to the border. While teaching creative writing on part time basis, Cantú sees himself fully as an author now and plans to write more books.

One thing is for certain, immigration is front and center. It reverberates through our national consciousness because of the massive immigrant influx of the late 1800s and early 1900s that seeded America’s unprecedented trajectory to a world power. While going through Ellis Island was no picnic, the culmination of years of hardened policies have created a humanitarian crisis on our southern border. Cantú has hopes that the current outrage of families being separated will be sustained into the next administration and lead to more humane enforcement policies and immigration reform.

For more information, call SOMOS at (575) 758-0081.

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