In this eye-opening and poignant true story about the experiences of four young Mexican women coming of age in Denver—two who have legal documentation, two who don’t—Helen Thorpe “puts a human face on a frequently obtuse conversation” (O, The Oprah Magazine), exploring themes of identity and friendship and exposing the reality of life for many undocumented immigrants seeking the American dream.
Just Like Us tells the story of four high school students whose parents entered this country illegally from Mexico. We meet the girls on the eve of their senior prom in Denver, Colorado. All four of the girls have grown up in the United States, and all four want to live the American dream, but only two have documents. As the girls attempt to make it into college, they discover that only the legal pair sees a clear path forward. Their friendships start to divide along lines of immigration status.
Then the political firestorm begins. A Mexican immigrant shoots and kills a police officer. The author happens to be married to the Mayor of Denver, a businessman who made his fortune in the restaurant business. In a bizarre twist, the murderer works at one of the Mayor’s restaurants—under a fake Social Security number. A local Congressman seizes upon the murder as proof of all that is wrong with American society and Colorado becomes the place where national arguments over immigration rage most fiercely. The rest of the girls’ lives play out against this backdrop of intense debate over whether they have any right to live here.
Just Like Us is a coming-of-age story about girlhood and friendship, as well as the resilience required to transcend poverty. It is also a book about identity—what it means to steal an identity, what it means to have a public identity, what it means to inherit an identity from parents. The girls, their families, and the critics who object to their presence allow the reader to watch one of the most complicated social issues of our times unfurl in a major American city. And the perspective of the author gives the reader insight into both the most powerful and the most vulnerable members of American society as they grapple with the same dilemma: Who gets to live in America? And what happens when we don’t agree?
Two new books follow the fates of young Latinos in the U.S. and examine how many are marginalized by education, immigration and incarceration policies.Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in AmericaHelen Thorpe. Scribner, (384p) By the time Marisela, Yadira, Clara and Elissa four girls of Mexican descent from the suburbs of Denver entered their freshman year in high school, they were inseparable, but four years later, their fundamental difference threatened to divide them: Clara and Elissa were legal residents, but Marisela and Yadira had begun to suffer the repercussions of their parents' choice to illegally enter the U.S. Journalist Thorpe, married to Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, met them as the girls without legal status were finding their friends' liberties big and small to attend college, drive or even rent a movie unbearable. "It was hard for Marisela and Yadira to see why they should labor over their homework if they were just going to end up working at McDonald's," Thorpe writes. "Marisela slid into trouble with ease, but Yadira found the experience profoundly disorienting." With striking candor, Thorpe chronicles the girls' lives over four years, delineating the small but arresting differences that will separate them and shape their futures. She personalizes the ongoing debate over immigration and frames it so compassionately and sensibly that even the staunchest opponents of immigration liberalization might find themselves rethinking their positions.