Recently, I came across an article about people protesting Francisco Cantu and his memoir of four years as a border patrol agent working the Arizona-New Mexico-Texas deserts. The people being nasty on Twitter and shouting during his book store events were liberals angry at him for making “blood money” off his book (yes, some people think authors make a ton of money). They probably didn’t read his memoir, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches From the Border, but they should have—they might have learned something enlightening and important for their cause. Cantu says that surprisingly he has not heard much from conservatives.
Memoir is most important to give us new perspectives, encouraging understanding and empathy and in some cases helping to facilitate changes. For controversial issues such as immigration or gun control, we are wise to learn facts and current rules and understand the opposing side so we can better work with them to make realistic changes. If you’ve ever taken a speech class, you should have learned this for your persuasive speech assignment. I gather from all the online commenting these days that few people paid attention in speech class.
In Mr. Cantu’s case, he had studied international relations and wanted to spend time outdoors while learning more about the immigration issue. What he discovered can be likened, I think, to what army men and women learn in combat zones: you do as you are told and you become hardened if you spend enough time there. You have to to keep your sanity. People sitting in their comfy chairs at home have no clue, but they sure have opinions.
From the Dallas News article of 3/11/18, “Debate Erupts Over Memoir”:
“Writing the book was a way to come to terms with what I had participated in, a job that made me normalize a certain amount of violence,” Cantu said. “I tried not to draw conclusions, but offer descriptions of what happened and a reflection of my state of mind.”
In memoir, you may not like what you read, but you should open your mind and learn. If you want to make changes, memoir can help you “know thine enemy” so you can better strategize how to come to solutions. And remember, especially for polarized issues, perfect is the enemy of good.
If you have not read The Line Becomes a River, the San Francisco Chronicle carried an interview with the author on 3/23/18 that you might find interesting: Contested Terrain.