On September 27, Dana Hall hosted author Jennifer De Leon as a guest speaker in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Born in the Boston area to Guatemalan parents, De Leon is author of the YA novel “Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From,” which was a Junior Library Guild selection, and the Juniper Award winning essay collection “White Space: Essays on Culture, Race, & Writing.”
During the assembly, De Leon spoke about herself, her books and what inspired her to become a writer, referencing the representation she didn’t see as a child. In describing her forthcoming novel, “Borderless,” De Leon said, “I had never read a book with a main character set in Guatemala. Toni Morrison has this amazing quote where she said, ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’ These are my books. These are books that I never saw growing up but I really needed, so I wrote them.”
After moving to the Boston suburbs, De Leon talked about the “two Jenns” she had to become: one to fit in with her white peers at school and a different one for when she spent time with her family. She said found code switching exhausting and hoped it would get better in college, though she was disappointed to find the microaggressions continued at her mostly white private college in Connecticut.
During her freshman year, she read “The House on Mango Street” for the first time, which was full of characters who reminded her of her family members. It was then at age 19 she decided to become a writer, but it took her many years to fulfill that decision. While “books were not something I grew up with,” she said, “stories were.” Along with teaching at the secondary and post-secondary level, De Leon has gone on to write two YA novels and a collection of essays, and she has edited an anthology of stories about the Latina experience in higher education.
Afterward, De Leon answered questions from students before signing copies of her books.