Creative City project encourages American Dreamers to share their stories

Deidra smiles in front of the Boston skyline
Former Program Coordinator, Creative City

American Dreamers Write: Reclaiming Our Stories is a community writing project centered around sharing stories as a uniquely powerful way to raise our voices, take action, and promote understanding about the experiences of Dreamers, immigrants, and children of immigrants by bringing their stories into the public realm via written works, public readings, and video projects.

Jennifer De Leon, author and lead artist behind American Dreamers Write: Reclaiming Our Stories, says about her inspiration for this Creative City-supported project, "Dreamers, or really anyone who can identify with the complexities of the 'American Dream' have lots of stories to share, often ones that are ignored in the mainstream media. Therefore, I really want to help students cultivate their voices and share their stories—as narratives or fictional pieces or poems—in a way that offers a counter-narrative to the domineering story being shared about immigrants in the world."

Jennifer De Leon; photo Daniel Portal.

De Leon's multi-phase project offers creative writing immersion for teens at Margarita Muñiz Academy. The teens have been participating in weekly writing workshops to respond to different prompts and address ways that they have been stereotyped. The students are working on a collaborative collage poem that will be presented before a live audience at Writers Persist on June 23. At GrubStreet Creative Writing Center, they learned about resources and opportunities for young writers and spoke with authors Sonya Larson, Alysia Abbott, and Dariel Suarz, who shared about inspiration, beginnings, memories, and advice, including (a) no matter what anyone tells you, being a writer is pretty cool; (b) read a lot and be a curious reader because there isn’t just one way to write a story or poem; and (c) have fun at all costs.

De Leon’s process with the teens is mutually beneficial. The author is also using this process to support her work on her YA novel about a 16-year-old Dreamer, Jade Flores, who identifies as Afro-Latina.

In an early workshop, students engaged in a free-write with these prompts:

  • In what ways do you feel misunderstood?
  • What do people "see" about you/judge you?
  • What don't they know about you?

Students reflected that others assume that they're loud, that they make bad decisions, that they steal things, and that they do poorly in school and won't amount to anything when students described themselves as quiet and shy, studious, ambitious, and honest. De Leon emphasized that those making judgments only know what they see and what we tell them, so we must tell them differently. If we don't share our own stories, the media will rely on stereotypes.

American Dreamers Write: Reclaiming Our Stories is about giving youth the tools to express themselves and their truth. Jennifer explained to the students, "If we share about discrimination against us, the next time people see someone in that situation, they won't be so quick to judge."

Jennifer De Leon is the editor of Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education. She is a member of the Grub Street Board of Directors and an Assistant Professor of English at Framingham State University. Her novel Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is forthcoming from Atheneum/Simon & Schuster in Winter 2020.

Saturday, June 23 | Writers Persist | 1–3 PM
Boston Public Library | 700 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116

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