I first discovered Tania Peralta through her writing. Instagram led me to her raw, soul baring words. I was intrigued by Tania with her wild black hair and piercing brown eyes. She looked like she held secrets, secrets of her own and secrets of her ancestors. We connected at the easy. launch event and expressed mutual adoration through instagram comments and dm’s since then.
On December 1st, 2017 Tania launched her seminal collection COYOTES. Simultaneously she launched Peralta House a publishing company for Latinx-Canadian writers and authors. I was struck by the clear intent behind her work, the obvious knowing that her stories need to be told and she needed to create a platform for stories both like and unlike hers.
No one can tell my story better than I can.
- Tania Peralta
Reading COYOTES means sitting with this small yellow book and digesting a story of girlhood in one sitting. It means being in Honduras in the early 90’s and for a moment, getting let into the truth of Tania’s young life. It feels like a diary, like letters filled with words that needed to be said and stories that can never be erased. It is filled with trauma, with displacement and the wreckage immigration can cause in a family. At the same time it is a story of healing and unlearning and letting go but never forgetting.
COYOTES is required reading. We had the pleasure of spending the day with Tania and her three year old daughter Xylo to photograph them for this issue. They are so connected. “Bella” as Xylo calls her is so self assured, standing firmly but in the centre you can almost see Tania’s heart beating, warm, ready.
Alyssa: Reading COYOTES I felt an understanding of how when you come to a new place all that’s familiar, all that you grew up knowing is sort of left behind. What rituals do you engage in to help you stay connected to where you come from?
Tania: I listen to a lot of Latino music. It helps me channel the feelings and sounds that brought me warmth when I was a kid. It helps me feel close to my parents and the other familial figures I’m no longer around. I drink coffee, that’s probably the most consistent ritual. Sometimes I can’t drink it because it acelerates my anxiety but i’ll brew some anyway just to have the smell going through the house. In Honduras we drank coffee in the morning every day. It’s such a comfort for me. But to be honest, nowadays as a mom and adult a lot of what I do to stay connected with where I came from is brand new.There’s so much I don’t know because I’ve been displaced. So sometimes it turns into work. I go online and I try my best to stay updated with both the social and political climate in Honduras.
When I’m in a dark place my daughter’s father will put the Latino music on himself, it’s almost like his go to fix to help me come back into the light. Both him and my daughter know that those sounds help me feel understood again. I remember at the launch of Peralta House and Coyotes Xylo ran up to me almost in tears just really frustrated. She was so worried that people kept taking “my yellow book”. It made me laugh but it was so sweet and innocent. I had to explain to her that they were supposed to take it. That it was my book, my story but I wanted them to have it. She knows I’m a writer and depending on what mood she’s in sometimes when she is playing she’ll say she’s a writer or that she’s a musician like her father.
How do you teach Xylo about who you are?
We involve her in the process. Another time I was preparing for a reading and I used her as an audience and after I finished reading the piece she said amen quietly. I started crying because something about what I said or the feeling I created when I read it out to her made her feel something spiritual. She’s so special. She’s very sensitive and aware. She knows me very well. She knows me bright and she knows me dark. I’ve always been my true selves around her. But as emotionally aware as she is sometimes teaching her about who I am is very simple and literal. It’s in teaching her to respect books. It’s in reading out loud not only the title of a book but it’s author, illustrator and dedication. Accenting those things opens a world for her that she can associate back to me when I or someone else identifies me as a writer. It’s in literally teaching her about paper texture and colour. It’s in reading her stories with people that look like us. It’s in putting something together and her knowing that her mother made that. It’s in hearing her name in a song and knowing her father made that.
You’ve described narrative as a best friend and a weapon. You’ve also described family shame around the telling of painful stories. What gave you the courage to tell these stories regardless?
I have been through a lot of traumatic experiences, sometimes out of my control and sometimes self inflicted. When I say my narrative is my best friend and weapon it’s because dark days come and go for me, I have no control over that, but when I tell my own stories it becomes my power instead of just something sad that I went through. That is my power, no one can tell my story better than I can. It’s a statement that it happened. This part is so important because I come from a culture that sweeps things under the rug and you are expected to just move on. So much time passes from when the trauma originally occurs to when you’re ready to talk about it that permanent damages along the way start to make you feel like it didn’t even happen or that there’s no point in trying to make sense of it now. So what happens then is that we hold onto these things inside of us, always a little bit sad, never truly satisfied. Then we go out into the world and this energy follows us, this unresolved energy is always hanging around and stopping us from making rationalized and compassionate decisions.
During the summer of my pregnancy was when that video of Eric Garner being choked to death by NYPD went viral. I couldn’t stop crying about it. A few days later I woke up with an insane fast food craving so Matthew and I got up to walk down the street to get me a snack. It was something like 5 in the morning just before the sun woke up. I was ready and eager to go and I was losing my patience with him because he was taking so long to get dressed. He kept changing his jacket sweater combo and with a few words it was clear to me how unaware I used to be about how society sees Black men and how that makes Black men feel. How just by existing in any space they are a political statement. Internalized anti-black reactions from some members of my family and physicians we dealt with throughout my pregnancy introduced me to a whole new perspective. Boy or girl, my child was about to come into this world and it just gave me a purpose to be loud about what we have gone through, what we go through and what we can do to make things better. The announcement of my pregnancy brought a lot of backlash from some members of my family that were based on anti-black views and religion.
What is your vision for Peralta House? What do you hope to provide through this platform?
My vision for Peralta House is for it to become a company that outlives me. A company that not only provides the resources to create but also to publish and distribute stories that reflect and expose a side of Canada that challenges the molded ideas of Canada that are out there. I want to help produce material that actually reflects what we go through. I want Peralta House to be behind programs that encourage and introduce youth to the power of storytelling.
The next step right now is to finish my publishing degree so that I can becomes as knowledgeable as I can be in this field for the future of Peralta House. I am in this chapter right now that involves a lot of reading and learning. It’s really hard to step back and do this sometimes, to go back and do more ground work. Social media makes things look like they need to happen so fast. Sometimes I go on my own page or Peralta House accounts and I start to worry that it looks like this is just another thing I started that will die down again, but I can’t have that happen. I care too much this time. This chapter is a lot about creating a strong and timeless foundation for myself and Peralta House.
You’ve said you write when you’re inspired and you read when you’re processing feelings. What do you like to read?
I could answer this for hours but I will try to keep it short by just sharing what I have been reading lately. I’m in the middle of writing my next piece of work which is a play called Women I’ve Become. So because of this I have been reading a lot of plays and scripts every time that I finish writing a section. It helps me go back and revisit what I wrote with fresh eyes. I have been in a really dark place this year so I have also really been holding on to the Tao Te Ching and other taoist readings. In Taoism I have found a lot of comfort. It’s allowed me to be still and reflect but also just let things be. The latter is so important to my mental health but also to my writing. Reading taoist material helps me be kind to my work and not destroy it.
Coyotes is about girlhood. You’ve mentioned during your highschool years not having the vocabulary like “person of colour” or “creativity.” For a young girl today who might be feeling marginalised or afraid to share her story, what would you tell her?
To any girl that is currently feeling marginalized and afraid to share their own story I will give you the same advice I have to coach my own self with daily. Sit with yourself even when it hurts to do so. Speak to all the parts of you that make you what you are. Speak to your happiness and your sadness. Ask yourself what makes you happy what makes you sad. Find those answers and figure out what you can and cannot control. For me it is very simple, I am unable to come back to the light until I have made something out of the darkness. I create because it saves me every single time. That is enough for me.