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Chambers discusses diversity at Saint Mary’s College

Mary Conroy | Thursday, September 29, 2005

Saint Mary’s experienced a little more diversity Wednesday night as author Veronica Chambers kicked off the Diversity Series Program with a speech on “Diversity on Campus.”

The lecture, first in a series of four, was sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Center for Women’s InterCultural Leadership. Vander Vennet Theater in the lower level of the Student Center was full to capacity as students, faculty and staff lined up to listen to Chambers’s childhood tales, experiences as a writer, travel adventures and development of her personal view of diversity.

Chambers, an African/ Latina, authored books Mama’s Girl , Quinceanera Means Sweet 15, and the soon-to-be-released Double Dutch: A Celebration of Jump Rope, Rhyme, and Sisterhood. She also wrote several books about childhood experiences, including Amistad Rising, Celia Cruz, and The Queen of Salsa.

Born in Panama, raised first in England and then Brooklyn at age five, Chambers had already experienced several different cultures and languages before she entered Simon College at age 16. At this point, she said she believed she could identify herself as a young black Brooklyn girl. Chambers soon gained internships and began to write for several nationally published magazines such as Seventeen and YM, and it was at this time she realized her self-identification began to change.

“You are not totally defined as you think you are when you grow up,” she said.

Through internships and additional jobs, Chambers was able to travel to Los Angeles, London and Japan. She said it was her experience in Japan in 2003 that drastically changed her personal view of herself.

“In Japan [I] was known as an American, not Black, not African-American, and I liked it,” Chambers said.

After sharing personal stories, Chambers aimed her talk directly at the students in attendance.

“If you have an interest reaching across [the] cultural line, [you] have opportunity to build friendships here,” she said.

Chambers also told how her experiences with other Americans of different backgrounds, her work and her travel have influenced her writings and presentations. She reminded the listeners that even though we are all Americans, it is beneficial to at least familiar with other ethnicities.

“If there is a time to reach past [the] awkwardness, this is the time,” she said. “College is [the] place where topics come up and [the] safest place to discuss topics – the corporate scene doesn’t care.”

Chambers concluded by encouraging students to broaden their experiences with diversity through writing.

“I am happy to help and give advice for those of you interested to be writers,” she said.