Helen Thorpe appearance is finale of Steamboat author series
May 10, 2012
As Helen Thorpe approached the age of 18, she realized that as a green card holder she couldn't vote in the United States, where she had spent most of her life. That barrier motivated her to become a naturalized citizen.
But she said her struggle was minimal compared to the stories she witnessed throughout the course of researching and reporting her 2009 book "Just Like Us."
It was her family background and immigrant history that motivated her to follow the story of four Hispanic teenage girls growing up in Denver. They were best friends, yet they were divided: Two of them had legal status and two did not.
"Sometimes I think it's really hard for people to identify with people who don't have legal status," Thorpe said in an interview with Explore Steamboat on Wednesday. "The first thing I try to get across is the humanity of the people involved."
Thorpe, who is the wife of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, will talk about her book at 6:30 p.m. today at Bud Werner Memorial Library as the finale of the Spring Author Series.
Library director Chris Painter said the library is honored to present an author and journalist of Helen Thorpe's caliber.
"Particularly because her book has such an interesting perspective on human life involved in some very challenging social issues," Painter said. "I am honestly much more of a fiction reader, and I'm totally swept up in her narrative. She's a very compelling and thoughtful journalistic writer, a wonderful storyteller."
During a six-year period, Thorpe said, she immersed herself in the lives of the four young girls. She attended classes with them at their high school in Denver and learned the struggles they faced not only as they came of age but also as they came to face the complex system of immigration.
"I think what I found so compelling about them was first their intelligence," Thorpe said. "Second was their ability to articulate what they were going thorough. They could name it, describe it, put it into words."
As the girls approached the ages of 16 and 17, the differences between the legal girls and those without legal status became more apparent. Two of them could get driver's licenses while two could not. Two had an easier time looking for assistance with college tuition while two didn't even have the proper ID to board an airplane.
But Thorpe said the girls' struggles were bigger and more profound than that.
"Suddenly there were all these things two of the girls could do and two could not," Thorpe said. "You feel like there's something wrong with you, in a global sense. This intersection of coming of age and lack of documents is something we'd never wish on any teenager."
Thorpe said she's drawn to issues in which there are different groups that don't understand one another, and she hopes her book can help illuminate the complexities of the immigration system and share the humanity behind an often-politicized issue.
When she began writing the book, her husband was the mayor of Denver. In 2010, he was elected governor. But Thorpe, who has worked in journalism for 20 years, said not much really changed for her.
"It could have," she said. "But I love writing, so I've really kept my schedule the same and I write the same number of hours every day. I've chosen not to change my life."
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com
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