The story in Jennifer De Leon's new young adult novel "Don't Ask Me Where I'm From" is one of a current day Boston. It follows a Latinx girl as she transitions from her diverse Boston school to a predominantly white one through the METCO program.
She deals with typical high school anxieties while navigating her identity, the child of immigrants, and being an outsider at her new school.
We speak with Jennifer De Leon, who is also the editor of Wise Latinas, an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Framingham State University and a GrubStreet instructor and board member.
On why the De Leon wrote a young adult (Y.A.) book:
De Leon: "I have always loved writing - creative writing - and fiction is something that I tried writing for adults and very soon realized that most of my protagonists were adolescents. And so at that point I realized that I was writing Y.A."
"I had applied for a fellowship at the Boston Public Library through the associates of the Boston Public Library. Once I was there, I was able to read so much Y.A. and really kind of get my footing in this world. And I feel like I never want to go back."
On developing the character, Liliana Cruz:
"Liliana is a character that I had written about in several short stories, and she's a character that has never left me. And, you know, I kept kind of hearing her clear her throat and grab the mike and the pen. And just I felt...like she needs more space."
"So I changed the short story into a novel, and I basically let her breathe on the page. And METCO came up because I really wanted Liliana's internal struggle of not feeling like she fully belongs in either world and wanting to fit in. I wanted her internal struggle to match her external one. And so I decided to put her in the METCO program as a way to, I guess, outline that."
On the experiences of students of color, children of immigrants:
"I think many children of immigrants or immigrants themselves, students of color, they often are very fluent in the language of code-switching, and the micro aggressions can really pile on and take their toll."
"And then, of course...there is some overt racism in the book, like there is in life. And Liliana starts off as being someone who really wants to assimilate and fit in. And by that I mean whitewashing. Throughout the book, she discovers more about herself, her identity. And, of course, what's happening with her father kind of propels her into wanting to know even more about her family's history and her family's story. Why do they move from Central America to Boston, of all places?"
"And so by the end, she's not so much trying to assimilate as she is trying to really use her voice as a platform, as a stepping stone, where she can help encourage others to do the same."
This segment aired on August 27, 2020.