Jennifer De Leon grew up attending mostly white schools in the Boston area, where she tried to fit in.
“I was in this mode of survival and assimilation,” said De Leon, an author and assistant professor of creative writing at Framingham State University in Massachusetts.
Then in her mid-20s, De Leon realized she wanted to reconnect with her family’s Guatemalan heritage. That discovery is one of the themes of her new book, “White Space: Essays on Culture, Race and Writing.” De Leon lays bare her personal experience of trying to reconnect with her roots as she travels to Guatemala, and explores her own relationship with the Spanish language.
“At our deepest core, we’re connected to emotions, memories and feelings in a specific language, and we can’t choose that,” she said in an interview with NEXT.
In one of the book's essays, “Mother Tongue,” De Leon recalls a morning when her son was about two years old. It was 6 a.m., and he’d woken up declaring he wanted meatballs. As she picked him up out of his crib, De Leon asked, “You want meatballs?” And he responded, “Sí.”
“And it just broke my heart and put it back together,” De Leon told NEXT. "It was like, 'How is he speaking Spanish? I just love that he is.'"
Moments like these, she said, remind her of our own evolutions — and the evolution of language.
This interview was featured in the most recent episode of NEXT from the New England News Collaborative. Listen to the entire episode here.