• Print

Jennifer De Leon Speaks in Chapel

On January 16, Belmont Hill officially welcomed author Jennifer De Leon as a Chapel speaker in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Ms. De Leon is a multiple award-winning writer of Young Adult books, with works such as Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, Borderless, and White Space: Essays on Culture, Race, & Writing

An Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Framingham State University, Ms. De Leon additionally serves on the staff of the Creative Writing & Literature Master Program at Harvard University and is an NPR contributor. Ms. De Leon graduated from Connecticut College holding a double major in International Relations and French, a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of San Francisco’s Center for Teaching Excellence and Social Justice, and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from UMASS-Boston. She has been recognized by several nationwide organizations, including the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the City of Boston’s Artist-in-Residence Program. 

In her talk, Ms. De Leon discussed her Guatemalan heritage and upbringing in the Boston area. She emphasized her growing sense of divide within her identity, being immersed in both the Guatemalan familial traditions and the white-dominant school and community she lived in; Ms. De Leon brought up the notion of “code-switching,” where she had to alter her conduct based on the person she was interacting with–a friendly cousin or a white student at her school. White students constantly asked her why she talked in a certain manner, and her Guatemalan relatives questioned why she liked to read. At other times, she faced microaggressions such as the question, “Where are you from? No, where are you really from?” 

Ms. De Leon emphasized that one of her main worries during her childhood was her issue with being unable to embrace one culture over another; this was a problem that followed her even through college and beyond, and she made sure to point out that it didn’t always have to be that way for anyone who struggled with divided identities. 

Ms. De Leon also brought up the reason she became an author: her belief in the power of storytelling; one of her influences that she displayed to the Chapel was a TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled “The Danger of a Single Story,” about how although stories can be used for spreading languages and cultures across the world, caution must be take in harmful stereotypes can emerging in writings. Ms. De Leon also listed The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros as one of her most impactful books growing up, as it was the first book that opened her eyes to her Latinx culture and free poetic language being used in a popular novel at the time. Ultimately, Ms. De Leon stressed that one of the central reasons she chose to become a writer was to make as much of a positive impact on her community as possible; an important theme of the Chapel talk was the concept of giving back to the community. In a brief anecdote of her own mother sharing bread through a fence, she compared even the smallest actions of kindness to big acts of community service, and emphasized the goodness in helping others that may not have as much as you may have yourself.

Ms. De Leon ended the session with an insightful Q&A session with the audience, and answered several questions about her personal life, upcoming works, and writing processes. Thank you to Ms. De Leon for a thought-provoking Chapel talk, and if you are interested in more of her writing or any other work she is involved in, visit https://jenniferdeleonauthor.com/.

Story Page