Vail Valley books: Insight into immigration
January 18, 2010
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – As an immigrant herself, Helen Thorpe, who will visit the Vail Valley Tuesday, thought she knew plenty about what is undeniably a very complex issue. Then she wrote a book about it and realized just how different her experience was. Thorpe was born in England, moved to the U.S. as a child and became a naturalized citizen when she was 21. The Denver-based journalist (she’s written for The New York Times Magazine, New York magazine, Westword, 5280 and more) recently published her first book, called “Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America.” The book focuses on four Denver girls – two with legal status, two without – trying to live the elusive American dream. Thorpe spent four years shadowing the girls as they move from high school to college. “I thought I’d had a personal experience of immigration. I watched my family adjust to living in a new country,” Thorpe said. “As I got to know the students, I realized their experiences were so much more challenging than mine ever were.”Not only was Thorpes family’s socioeconomic status significantly different than the four girls, her family also spoke fluent English, her father had a job as an engineer lined up before moving to the states and her mother quickly found work as a nurse.”We also had white skin and arrived in a country where the majority of people had white skin,” Thorpe said. “I didn’t experience what it was like to have black or brown skin.”She will talk about that and her book, at The Bookworm of Edwards Tuesday. The talk is set for 6 p.m. and at press time, a handful of tickets were available for the event. “No matter what side of the immigration debate you might be on, ‘Just Like Us’ addresses issues that we deal with every day here in the Vail Valley and in Colorado,” aid Besse Lynch, the Bookworm’s marketing coordinator. “Helen Thorpe took on a complex topic when she set out to write this book. The issues that she addresses – identity, immigration, education – are gray areas, to say the least.”
Thorpe is married to Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, who just last week announced his candidacy for Colorado governor. She admits she wrestled with the question of how to handle that relationship in the context of this project. “At the beginning, it didn’t seem like it would be such a big issue – when I first started reporting on this subject, immigration had not yet become the intensely polarized argument that it is today,” Thorpe writes in a Q&A on her Web site – helenthorpe.wordpress.com. “It wasn’t at the top of the list of things that voters cared passionately about. So initially I imagined that I could write about the girls without ever mentioning my husband. But everything changed during the years that I was reporting on the girls’ lives. The subject of immigration became increasingly politicized, and my husband was drawn into the debate. “For a while, I thought I had to abandon this project, but I couldn’t forget about the girls.”In the end, Thorpe decided that politics had to be part of the story, too, she said.So far the feedback on her book has been positive, and garnered good reviews from The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, The Washington Post and more.”I haven’t had anyone say I was a raving liberal or way off base after they read the book,” she said. “I didn’t sugarcoat anything. I think I described some choices these families made, and the average reader might think they made some bad choices along the way,” Thorpe said, pointing out a part in the book that describes how one of the girls’ father decided to purchase a stolen identity. “I don’t think anyone could read that part of the book and come away thinking I thought that was a good thing to do,” Thorpe said.High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.