Politics makes strange truck-bed fellows.
Four years ago, Helen Thorpe, a veteran Texas political reporter who'd married John Hickenlooper and moved to Denver in 2002, was a passenger in Tom Tancredo's tan Chevrolet pickup, touring the part of northwest Denver he called Tancredoland, where he'd grown up — and where one of the girls Thorpe had been following for her book Just Like Us now lived. At the time of the trip, Tancredo was a presidential candidate, with a platform based on immigration; Hickenlooper was looking at a second mayoral term — and neither man was running for governor of Colorado. "Driving around the same streets with Tancredo gave me an entirely different perspective on the neighborhood," Thorpe wrote in Just Like Us, The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America — two of those girls here legally, two not. "In the past I'd paid attention to the current immigrants, but not their predecessors. What I wanted to understand was how someone could grow up on these streets and hold Tancredo's opinions. Why would Tancredo and I — both of us from immigrant families — have opposite emotional reactions to the idea of more people coming? Why was my fundamental response one of sympathy, while his appeared to be one of antipathy?"
Thorpe's family had arrived in this country from Ireland when she was an infant; Tancredo's paternal grandfather, Joe, had come to America from Italy at the age of nine or eleven, alone or with other Tancredos (his story changed through the years), intending to settle in Iowa but making his life here. The trip through Tancredoland wound up at the Potenza Lodge and the Feast of St. Rocco. "As we walked down Navajo Street," Thorpe related, "a group of perplexed Mexican laborers stared at us from their front porch. They did not know what all these gray-haired English speakers were doing on their street, but they recognized a religious event when they saw it, and removed their baseball caps. Tancredo said these workers didn't belong here — not if they lacked Social Security numbers, not if they had failed to learn English. I didn't disagree with his opinion, exactly — it's just that the workers were here. We wanted these guys around when it came time to remodel the basement, yet we also want to say they weren't proper Americans. We wanted to have it both ways."
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Next week, though, Coloradans will have to choose.