Community Reads: “Just Like Us” – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Community Reads: “Just Like Us”

The fifth annual Community Read will feature the highly-acclaimed book “Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America” (Scribner). “Just Like Us” is a non-fiction account of four teenage girls in Colorado written by Helen Thorpe. The greater Geneva community is invited to read the book and then join members of the Colleges and the Geneva Reads community as Thorpe discusses the book in Geneva on Monday, March 4, 2013, at 7 p.m., in Albright Auditorium.

Referred to as “One of the best books of 2009” by the Washington Post and “meticulously observant” by The New Yorker, “Just Like Us” has been critically well-received. It is a nonfiction narrative set in Denver, where Thorpe is First Lady, and juxtaposes her life with that of four Mexican American girls as they transition from youth into adulthood. As two have legal status, they go on to learn to drive, work, open bank accounts and acquire financial aid for college as their two friends without documentation cannot.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of “The Tipping Point,” “Blink” and “Outliers,” wrote, “Just Like Us beautifully and powerfully reminds us of the individuals whose lives lie at the center of the chaos that is our approach to immigration. Helen Thorpe has taken policy and turned it into literature.”

Thorpe is a freelance journalist whose magazine stories have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, New York, George, Texas Monthly and The New Yorker. The daughter of Irish parents, she was born in London, she grew up in Medford, N.J., and is a graduate of Princeton University.  She was on the board and helped establish an exemplary Head Start program at Clayton EduCare in Denver, which offers early childhood education services to low-income children and their families. A stage adaptation of “Just Like Us” has been commissioned by the Denver Center Theatre Company.

In addition to “Just Like Us” (which is written for those ages 14 and older), the Geneva City School District will utilize age-appropriate books that focus on similar issues. Grades five through eight will read “Under the Same Sky,” by William Smith alum Cynthia DeFelice ’73; “My Name is Maria Isabel,” by Alma Flor Ada, will be read and discussed by grades three and four; and students in kindergarten through second grade will read “Name Jar,” by Yangsook Chi. Through a $30,000 grant from the Wyckoff Family Foundation, Geneva Reads is able to purchase the Community Read books to distribute to every student.

Lauren Foe ’14 has been working with the Director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning Katie Flowers, Director of the Office of Intercultural Affairs Alejandra Molina, and the Geneva Reads committee to organize this year’s Community Read. She has developed a kit of educational and fun lessons about immigration that allows students to creatively engage with ideas about citizenship. Geneva City School District teachers will start using the kit with the books in the spring.

“This year, the Community Read books focus on immigration, education, work, and the American dream – what opportunities does one have as a citizen of the United States? How does our society regulate who is allowed to identify as an American?” says Foe.

Therefore, her lesson kit addresses the history, politics, literature and art targeting immigration in the U.S. throughout the past several decades.

In the photo above, Dr. Joseph Gomez, of Geneva General Cardiology Associates, is photographed with the book, “Just Like Us.”