Interview with Helen Thorpe

Recorded July 22, 2018 Archived July 22, 2018 41:17 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: APP512865


Helen Thorpe, born January 23, 1963, is an Irish-born-American author and journalist. She has written for major American newspapers and magazines, and has authored three books. Her first book, Just Like Us, which follows the lives of four Denver girls of Mexican background and deals with aspects of immigration into the United States, was published in 2009. She relates the girls’ stories to her immigration story and talks about how different, yet similar they are. Her current book, The Newcomers, talks about the Newcomer program at South High School and the process those students went through after migrating to the United States.


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00:17 Archie, present, journey to Unity where are series a podcast is about breaking the Silence of the unheard through worldwide immigration story with one another. Can you hear us being an immigrant, doesn't change who you are and Shine the Light on where you're from, whether near or far. Your home is where you make it no matter where you are. The word family. Doesn't just start with one. It's deeper than our routes from where, I'll be gone one by one. Please by piece. We listen to these stories.

00:51 Hello, I'm Thomas and this journey to Unity podcast brings you author, Helen Thorpe and the journey to Unity team to discuss a life story in America.

01:01 Helen Thorpe, and I'm Irish American. I'm an immigrant Food, Country, and a writer. And I've written three books, and two of them are about immigration or Refugee resale.

01:20 Growing up here in Denver for best friend. I'm giving you a long answer and call for Mexican American or families, two of the girls had legal status. So the two, the two without papers ran into all the problems that I'm documenting kids running to not being able to drive legally after. I spent six years with those students in high school. And that was a really like long important project about immigration. So later I showed up at South High School.

02:19 Okay, so you probably have English and your schooling has been interrupted because of war in your home country. It's a designated place where there's resources for you if you want. So they have to deal with trauma from or situations. They have expertise in language acquisition. Or I read your first book about undocumented students. I know you, you'll understand our kiss, your you can send as much time as you want.

03:05 So I ended up spending a year in the classroom for newcomer students usually have war in their home country. Some of the kids were from ancient heads Facebook because it's like, how can you even do that?

03:50 My parents coming to this country as immigrants with me when I was a baby growing up here. Traveling back and forth between the United States and our home country, which is Ireland. And that experience of having two countries. Probably is what leads me to want to write about.

04:09 Students arriving here trying to figure out this country and their relationship to Ireland 52. First cousins, and the farm is really like at the center of our life as a family and that he brought the start of the wrong side of town and my mom.

05:09 And when I was going to have to hear my mom, once it's always telling us stories about her life on the farm, so we didn't do much, but she was always like one of her childhood stories is when, when she was in Middle School. Because there were 10 kids on her Farm her father and sister because she didn't have any kids was invited back was telling me where of a really different kind of childhood.

06:09 Stage one with my parents who are Irish, but I think that's a really good question because I didn't live their life. And even though I have everybody can I didn't grow up in Spanish, but I still had 100%.

06:44 I thought it was really important to tell her story cuz I didn't think their stories were being told widely, but it's also true that I don't think I don't think I necessarily.

07:05 But I do think that I had a capacity to put their stories in a book and get the book out to a wide audience and they weren't being given a book contract at being asked to write their story to a Publishing House in New York editor in New York City, to get the story out into bookstore, but I think reality understanding as best I could.

07:45 Yeah, understanding of what immigration is and

07:56 This was

07:58 Starting 15 years ago when we began.

08:06 People who didn't have legal status were even more scared to talk about it. And then so because I agreed to change their name to the first book. It gave the students a chance to step forward and nobody knew who I was writing about.

08:44 Later, it was kind of a dreamer movement.

08:52 With the newcomers with the recent book, I think I was trying to write about Refugee resettlement in a way that journalists at a time when I started working on the newcomers like they have most difficulty of anybody on Eric, and I was kind of like

09:23 That's true. When they're stuck in their home countries are at War happening. But by the time they feel really grateful. They're celebrating the fact that they've been given a chance to start over and there was so much joy and gratitude has developed country how much joy and optimism. There was in Murray selling it.

10:15 I think in that case, it's not that the story wasn't out of your difficulty and you have safety of last. So I think

10:38 DACA with a huge step forward, but not enough. So I'd love to renew the DACA program has good because it gives kids who grown up in this country and don't have documents a chance to realize

11:00 The investment they've made in their own education, but all of us have made in their education. The kids have come up through our school and what's the point of getting a kid and education?

11:23 Of course we want is to qualify for DACA to be able to work legally and go to college course. We want them to be able to get away any moment. That's not, that's not so sure. Her family and just blending into our society. We should just recognize.

12:16 And by the way, it makes total economic sense.

12:23 It's a better solution for sure, and keep them in his status where their uncertain and cancer to fully realize their potential with the DREAM Act. If you can legalize permanently dead, you have stability and security, you can believe in your own future. If you can't accept all kinds of job, please go up. Tax revenue goes up.

13:03 The economic benefit United States. It's really significant.

13:09 It makes no sense whatsoever to take that group of kids and not want them to have.

13:19 I know people have Hangouts but it's just us and I hope this is true that tree will ever tolerate.

13:33 A massive large-scale deportation of the 11 to 12 million. Undocumented people who are part of America and Captain Heart of America. For a really long time. No, ice is doing great. I know there are deportations happening, and it's terrifying. But we accept that we have 11 to 12 and we actually depend on their labor massively in many Industries, restaurant construction Landscaping, just to name a few janitorial, services. Wild, we dependent on undocumented labor? So we talked about deportation and we make small scale deportation to try to deter large numbers of additional people coming, but we don't really actually ever decide. We're really going to have a hundred percent documented Society.

14:33 It's just part of our hypocrisy to talk about deportation and threatened. We don't talk about this openly, but we never are honest about it. But we depend on these people and many, many Industries. I don't mean to minimize. I know it's just that I want us to accept that. We depend on the labor of these families and acknowledge it unusual moment with an erratic and Moody president who changes his mind.

15:33 We're not seeing large and started a new life here. And then we were always juggling our allegiance to this country, and also our allegiance to our own culture. And even my parents arrived with white skin speaking English and a legal Visa. So our immigration story is not exactly the same as shade on learning a new language and figuring out what to do about that.

16:33 I'm here story of my story without its difficulties at a challenges, do for me greater strength, and courage on your part. And if I look at the rest today don't have the burden of being undocumented but really what war is really like we in this country we ourselves or somebody in our family or somebody were really close to him.

17:31 A refugee Family Insurance of trying to figure out his country trying to figure out what they want. So, I love telling me stories because I relate to the stories except they're also do for me. And difference in my story has been visited, the Democratic Republic of Congo driving cuz one of the families a little bit

18:28 So,

18:30 You know, we don't cover the rest of the world very well in our papers. We focus here on... Or if we talk about what's happening on the African refugees. We aren't ready. Very well and I knew, I was using that to the refugee crisis.

19:27 For or from cago, forward from Eritrea to were from Vermont to typically, they don't know exactly what happened in Iraq. They know we went to war in Iraq, to Syria. Syrian Civil War became doublerefugees.

20:27 We don't understand why you have to be spaced on my at least we have. But not a lot of fact the immigration debate whatsoever never applied to them. But trying to show people are the immigration laws affecting these individuals at the end of it.

21:24 Hopefully, when you read a newcomers.

21:29 First of all, teachers in the profession of teaching feels less glamorous or it's less like celebrating our historic Prejudice in our country. I think it's a discomfort with our own history. So for decades

22:29 Immigrating here and using the labor of these families without Indila classrooms rels classroom, and we don't want it to pick peaches in Colorado, or do you pick lettuce in other places where to pick, strawberries in California, where to pick sugar, beets, look squarely at our own economy and our own dependence on this labor. And we don't want to look squarely, why do they have to learn texting her own history and its

23:29 And I think that you are teachers are forgot. We don't as a culture has been a lot of time looking at that classroom celebrating the hard to learn some of these kids showed up with zero English at the start after one year and Indila classrooms. They jump over a year-and-a-half of you instructions with your peers books, like Sherman. Alexie's book, The absolutely true Diary of a Part-Time Indian and To Kill a Mockingbird. When here is unbelievable.

24:29 That we can't really understand reality. I am an introvert. And so for me, I love writing to kind of be quiet and settle that are my thoughts. And right I think of people in those protections as more than taking him, that seems really hard for me, but it's also true that our community and like what I think

25:29 Came here from Eritrea. His parents arrived here as refugees displaced. He brings his whole history, just like he would be right, but I totally agree and I think it's starting to happen.

26:02 But people have Ebola.

26:06 If your 18.

26:13 So,

26:18 Establishing trust so that people will want to share their story cuz I can't tell.

26:26 I can't tell other people stories if they can't really share at a deep level with me. And then there's just the writing itself and trying to keep the bar as high as possible to write the best possible. But most possible, after that. There's the challenge of trying to get the book out in the world trying to help people connect with it. And also the challenge of being asked questions about the book.

27:06 But I've just written and learning from hearing how the glands with people are not yet really being hurt very well in our society, but I'm always doing it in perfect job and I will learn from how it lands with people. What what I could do a better job at what I could do, what I need to learn but it is hard to put all that work into a book, take it out in the world and then still have to learn more about how it's a perfect day. Try to remain open to that. She back in that criticism.

27:59 As well too bad. I had to write just like us.

28:05 Sorry, I was trying to tell somebody else. But if you tell somebody else's story you won't get it right. It's just as hard as I can to tell with just like us and that was I've already told you. I was speaking my family's English-speaking.

28:56 I'm an immigrant and I was trying to tell a story about people from Spanish-speaking families, to my ethnic group my language group and write about some way English-speaking.

29:18 Women whose lives are super challenging more challenging than I had difficulty accessing education. So I wrote a book about some women. They were living in a different state.

29:41 What was it? Three different women? So they enlisted in the National Guard's thinking they were, they had traumatic experiences overseas and had to figure out how to come back with PTSD back into our society. Nobody thinks of being overseas, and then struggling to come back home. That's a lot like an immigration story.

30:41 And you have to come here, take off that uniform, leave. All your comrades, all your fellow soldiers, come into the back, into your home country. Without any of the people who had your experiences while you were overseas. You're not known or recognized. Nobody understands.

31:06 I learned a lot right in that second book. It's called Soldier girls. And so then having written one book about immigration, and one book about war Refugee, resettlement elsewhere, and no longer have a safe and the United Nations. Tell them. It's so dangerous in your home, country of the first two books to start the day before that. There's a big appetite.

32:06 Asylum. Seekers, and I can talk about all three of those subjects so I can't wait to get back to writing cuz I have an introvert and that's more comfortable for me, but I don't know why it's so bad. It's completely always has Prejudice always had white supremacy.

32:50 Resin, epoxy over and over again. I mean it's always but we always try to do better is always been. This guy in the White House is just totally. It's the worst moment in my life. I mean,

33:17 It's like living through a nightmare.

33:26 I'm for his own benefit is.

33:30 So disturbing.

33:34 I think all of us are spending a lot of time. Just trying to has put herself back together again.

33:42 It's helpful for.

33:45 People in those parts of society. Like somebody like me naked display because sometimes that's directed at other people directly myself, for parts of society that has been unaware of how he actually is. But I can't wait until he's out of office because it's just

34:38 A lot of years as an immigrant, has there left for me? Personally, I have full rights. I can't I don't think I can be deported. I could probably figure out how

35:06 I feel much more protective than a lot of the people that I'm close to. So the students that I wrote it out and just like that. One of them has DACA, but no, because it's temporary because it's only a few years because she doesn't it.

35:41 With my son, first started school. I was working on just like that. I became friends who son was going to school with my son and she began inviting me over to her home for me. She was taken out of school so that I can. But you know, when it comes to food, she is like that. She has cooked for me over the years. It's unbelievable. That we've been friends for 10 years.

36:39 What's going to happen for to her like her?

36:49 What you want?

36:54 For decades. So his family was going to happen. So we went to afford to pay illegal Bill and she had tried seeing other attorneys are not good attorneys. And she said, look, I know this attorneys a good attorney. We went together with the proceeds from just like us immigrants and then I wanted to take some of those are nice and give back to somebody who also is not documented.

37:37 So I use earnings and just like us to pay her legal bills in the attorney. Figure it out because her oldest son.

37:48 Overseas fighting for the United States. Actually has a path to citizenship that she didn't know the amount of stress and anxiety, and all that kind of stuff anymore.

38:16 But she's just one person. I mean, there's another 11 to 12 million people living in that kind of fear right now.

38:25 So, my concern is in my garden. Please take care of my kids. Please clean our school, building, please.

38:46 It's

38:49 This moment.

38:53 And,

38:54 Excruciating for for all of us.

39:01 Value, diversity and care about.

39:06 I can't wait till their families feel more safe again.

39:13 Interview questions.

39:20 Never never had that fear because.

39:25 They arrived with a legal fees and then they pretty quickly got green card and at that time.

39:33 Well, there was prejudice against.

39:46 Especially if in any way they visibly could be identified. So so my parents are riding white and English speaking English. Speaking part of America. It might have prejudiced against when they look at my parents.

40:08 So, because we arrived from an English-speaking family at 8.

40:17 With complete English and it hasn't started the beginning learning English. Never never suffered at why you sponsored by arts and Society, Denver Housing, Authority, the City and County of Denver office of children's Affairs, the office of immigration and Refugee Affairs, and the urban Arts fund. For more information visit our website at journey to Unity.