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Mexican-American grapples with lessons learned on Border Patrol


A Mexican-American student of international relations becomes a United States Border Patrol agent to learn what he can’t in the classroom in Francisco Cantú’s “The Line Becomes a River.”

Cantú is a talented writer who knows where to find great material, even as he risks losing his soul in the process. His Mexican mother had worked as a ranger in West Texas, and he had an affinity for the region that spurred his departure from academic life to learn firsthand about patrolling the border and determining the fates of the Mexicans who dared to cross it. Some were selling drugs, and others just wanted a better life; some had to work with a drug cartel in order to finance their escape. The author was by all accounts a good agent for some five years, upholding the law without brutalizing those he captured for deportation, as some agents did. But he feared what the experience was doing to him. He had trouble sleeping and suffered disturbing dreams, and he felt he was becoming desensitized. His mother warned him, “we learn violence by watching others, by seeing it enshrined in institutions. Then, even without our choosing it, it begins to seem normal to us, it even becomes part of who we are.” Cantú left the field for a desk job and became more reflective and more disturbed; eventually, he returned to scholarship with a research grant. But then a man he knew and liked through a daily coffee shop connection ran afoul of the border authorities after returning to Mexico to visit his dying mother and trying to return to his home and family. His plight and the author’s involvement in it, perhaps an attempt to find personal redemption, puts a human face on the issue and gives it a fresh, urgent perspective. “There are thousands of people just like him, thousands of cases, thousands of families,” writes Cantú, who knows the part he played in keeping out so many in similar situations.

“The Line Becomes a River” is a devastating narrative of the very real human effects of depersonalized policy.

(Cantú will speak and sign copies of his book starting at 7 p.m. Feb. 12 at BookPeople. Free to attend; only books purchased at BookPeople are eligible for signing. Information: bookpeople.com.)

A path to healing

In Rebecca Faye Smith Galli’s debut memoir, “Rethinking Possible,” a seasoned newspaper columnist details her struggles to overcome a series of tragedies that upended her life.

Galli, born in the late 1950s, was raised in a close, loving family. The daughter of a well-respected North Carolina Baptist minister, she was the first of three children: Her brother, Forrest, and sister, Rachel, quickly followed. The family ate, played and prayed together. Life was orderly, predictable, and happy — until Labor Day weekend 1978 when Forrest was killed in a water skiing accident. Galli writes: “The gaping hole in our tightly woven fivesome was too large for us to mend for each other. So we splintered, each taking a different path to heal.” This was only the first challenge to the author’s carefully designed life plans. In 1981, she married Joe: “We were two Type A’s ready to join forces to see what we could accomplish. Together. Forever.” Their first child, Brittany, was born in June 1987: “The timing was perfect, just as planned.” Things would not continue to go as expected. Of Galli’s next five pregnancies, one ended in a miscarriage and two produced special needs children. The strain of Joe’s very successful career and the child care demands that kept the author at home brought the marriage to a breaking point. In 1997, they divorced. Only nine days later, she contracted a “one-in-a-million” virus that would leave her permanently paralyzed from the waist down. In her poignant and courageous book (which includes many photos), Galli pulls no punches, as she chronicles her emotional journey through a life that had to be totally restructured. Rage, tears, frustrations, denial and doubts spill from the pages through articulate, conversational prose. (An experienced writer, Galli has produced hundreds of columns for the Baltimore Sun.) She shares all the difficulties she faced in this book, including the intimate complexities of her new reality — bathroom complications, the dangers of unfelt skin abrasions, and mysterious pains where there are no other sensations. Acceptance was slow in coming: “Letting go of dreams was loss, just as real as the loss of the use of my legs.” But fierce determination lifts the narrative tone: “Life isn’t about what you’ve lost, but about what you’ve learned — and what you do with what you have left.”

Galli’s memoir is touchingly honest, pleasantly sarcastic and thought-provoking account that focuses on resilience.



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