Helen Thorpe, author and journalist is married to John Hickenlooper, the mayor of Denver, Colorado, providing her an interesting vantage point from which to see the issue of illegal immigration. However, instead of merely hearing about the issue and witnessing the issue from afar, Thorpe actively researches how immigration status affects those who are a part of the issue.
Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America reflects five years of work and research Thorpe devoted her life to as she befriended four young women in Denver, Colorado. Marisela, Clara, Yadira and Elissa are all growing up in Denver, looking forward to their future and all it may hold. As highschoolers it is becoming more obvious that although the girls are all intelligent and good students, the two friends who are in the United States legally will have many more options open to them. Marisela and Yadira must try and find a way to attend college even though they are not eligible for financial aid or scholarships - they don't have a Social Securty number. Thorpe follows the girls throughout their college years and is privy to the many areas of their lives they tell no one else about. Friendships, boyfriends, part-time jobs, and the struggle to obtain independence and success while still helping their families takes up most of their time beyond school. The girls' lives are much like that of every other college student, yet the extra burden of hiding their illegal status and the worry about what types of job they will be able to secure in the future set them apart.
All four girls find ways to blend in to their colleges and assimilate with the white American culture and still remain true to their heritage.
Thorpe includes information about the various current events that help shape the attitudes of Americans toward immigrants , including the shooting of a Denver policeman at a popular restaurant, Salon Ocampo. The murderer, an illegal immigrant, gives those who oppose assisting immigrants living in the US without papers, ammunition that supports their views.
Thorpe's book was so interesting and well-researched, providing a snapshot of the life of Mexican young adults in America. This one ranks right up there with another sociological portrait, Random Family by Adrian Nicole Leblanc, that I found fascinating.