Faces Of NPR showcases the people behind NPR--from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what they're inspired by on the daily. This month, we feature NPR's Latin community. Next up is Eyder Peralta.
Name: Eyder Peralta
Title: International Correspondent
Where you're from: Matagalpa, Nicaragua
Twitter Handle: @Eyderp
Eyder Peralta, International Correspondent
Eyder Peralta, International Correspondent
Your time in South Africa just ended, how was your experience covering South Africa?
I did. It was really great in some ways. You know, it's an incredibly complicated country that reminds me a lot of the United States. The racial dynamics are very similar. The political dynamics are very similar, except that everything in South Africa is super magnified. And so, you know, it was really interesting to dig into a country that seemed so similar to my own country in the United States. It's sort of almost like stepping back to what I imagine the U.S. was like during the civil rights period. One of the things that was really interesting as a Latino, is that we lived in Cape Town and there's a huge colored community there – the word colored is not a pejorative down there. It is used. It refers to mixed people. Mestizos, which is what we would call ourselves in Latin America. And so it was really interesting because in a lot of the colored people, I saw my own family. The same sort of colonial hang-ups they had. The same sort of navigating both the Black world and the white world, and sometimes being accepted into the white world, sometimes being pushed away from the white world. And what that sort of does to your brain. How white supremacy sort of creeps in and what it sort of does politically and socially. What I saw in Cape Town is the same thing that I see in Latinos in the United States. So I think that was the part that was most fascinating to me in South Africa. It was a cool experience in that I didn't expect it to be so similar to the US.
Did you face any backlash as a Latino in Africa?
For the most part, no. For the most part, it was actually a good thing. I think people were happy to have a fellow person of color there. But then, yes. I did a lot of reporting in Ethiopia. And it was oftentimes rough. It was a civil war. It is an incredibly polarized society. And so oftentimes when I reported there, there was a lot of public bashing of, you know, here comes this white guy with his colonialist view. Which is, of course, weird for a Latino from Nicaragua, a place that has been invaded by the United States multiple times, invaded by Spain, that fought for its own independence, to be accused of that. However, Latinos are complex people. And they're right. I am both white and Indigenous and Black. And so I am both colonizer and colonized. I have a thick skin, but totally, yes, there was. And mostly on Twitter. Twitter's the place where a lot of this happened. But definitely there was like, "Who are you to be reporting on such a complicated place that has never been colonized? White people tried. And here you are, another white man trying this." And I pushed back a little bit, not a ton, but I think it's just part of reporting in a place that's in a civil war, and incredibly polarized. Incredibly polarized. Way more polarized. Americans, I feel like, feel like they're polarized. They're not. When you're in a place that is at war with each other, that's polarized.
What perspective of Africa – and I know you were in many different countries – do you think that you were able to learn or portray?
My whole thing covering the continent was, I wanted to tell stories that mattered to the people I was covering. And I think I did that quite well, actually, if I can say that. I think I covered stories that Kenyans cared about, that Ugandans cared about, that Ethiopians cared about. I mean, we did stories about, you know, how different emperors and their legacies in Ethiopia were being debated among Ethiopians. Not among the Western world, but among Ethiopians. And I think what I sort of wanted to prove is that this was a different way of doing foreign correspondence, because foreign correspondence so often concentrated on Foreign Relations, on the view from Washington, on what matters directly to the United States. And what I really, really wanted to do was to say, you know, what matters to South Africans, matters to people in the United States. And if you can tell what people are really feeling about, really care about in these countries, Americans, our audience, will care. And we should say, you know. Americans are an incredibly diverse people, which includes Ethiopian Americans, which includes Kenyan Americans, which includes, you know, Latino Americans, all kinds of hyphenated Americans. So I think even that framing is problematic to say, you know, "what Americans care about," because Americans are not monolithic, obviously.
Yeah, that makes sense. So what are you looking forward to in Mexico City?
Well, I mean, I've already been eating a lot of tacos.
Are you there already?
Oh, yeah. Yes, I'm in Mexico City. So, I mean, the food is spectacular. This is a big change. This is a metropolis. And it has its own complications. It's a place I think that as a Nicaraguan American, you sort of think you know. But it's a huge place. And I am looking forward to traveling every little corner of Mexico and going to, you know, Central America and discovering places that I thought I knew, that I'm pretty sure that I don't. Because as a journalist, you know, you really dig it. And so I'm looking forward to traveling and getting to know these places.
Do you know what stories you intend to cover while you're there?
Yes and no. I think there's very obvious stories. I think there are a lot of things happening with democracy in my region. You have Nicaragua, which has turned toward authoritarianism. You have a young, charismatic new president in El Salvador who is also being accused of having authoritarian tendencies. You have a swing to the left in Mexico. So I think there's a lot of things happening in Latin America. Things are changing in Latin America. And I think a lot of my job here will be trying to understand what those shifts mean, and where these countries are going. And obviously, another huge story is migration. I mean, there's a massive amount of people on the move in this region. This year, for the first time, more than 2 million migrants were apprehended at the U.S. border. For the first time, they've hit that number. So it's a massive movement of people that's happening here. And I think what I want to know is, why are so many people moving? And I think I've seen explanations of that. But leaving home is not easy. As you know, I came from a family that left home. I came from a family that were refugees in the United States. I was a refugee in the United States. And doing that is not easy. Like, that's not an easy choice. So I think really digging into why people have chosen to pick up and go is one of those. And obviously, I think all the little things that don't make headlines but make life meaningful, are also the things that I'm always on the lookout for.
So speaking of being a refugee, how has that experience of leaving Nicaragua with your parents has influenced your career, if at all. Does your desire to report on different parts of the world and travel stem from that experience at all?
Um, I think so. I hesitate because I feel like I've given this thought, but not a lot of thought. I think more than the leaving home part, it's the idea that my family was shaped by war. And I think I've always found that fascinating. And how something can have so many repercussions over generations. I mean, my family, right now, we are scattered across the world because of a war that happened in the mid-seventies through the eighties. I have family members in Nicaragua and Honduras, in the U.S. and Canada and Spain. We are scattered. And I feel like the complexity of what happened in my country, and understanding how many repercussions something like war can have, I really think it made me want to go there and try to explain something. I was about to say, get to the bottom of things. But these things are so complicated that I don't know that that's possible. You can dig, but do you ever get to the bottom? I don't know. But I think that the complexity of the sort of explosion that happened in my childhood and then how all these pieces are still being affected by that, is really what makes me want to understand all of these things.
Do you remember anything about fleeing?
Just the actual journey of it. I mean, I was five, so very little. I think a lot of it actually comes from the retelling. I don't remember the war in Nicaragua. But I do remember the actual fleeing north. That, I remember.
After reading about your experience in the prison in Sudan and fleeing Nicaragua as a child, I want to know, have you experienced PTSD, and if so, how do you manage that? And how do you continue to report?
Yeah, I mean, I think people internalize things differently, right? I think there are people to which that experience in South Sudan would really get deep into them. I seem to be able to put things in different places in my head, and I felt like that experience actually made me want to report more. But I will tell you that it's something that shows up in little ways, for a while. Like, you know, every once in a while, I'll see, like, a pickup truck, and hear it, and it freaks you out a little bit, and you move on, right. But I think, you know, Ethiopia was really tough. I mean, it is a pretty horrific civil war. And also the government surveillance is serious. The government intimidation is serious. And I was in Ukraine for a month, almost. And it made me realize that I was actually afraid in Ethiopia, and not in Ukraine.
I mean, fear and dealing with it, I think, is a core part of this job. And I don't mean just because you're covering conflict. I mean because this is a job that asks you to do things that you wouldn't want to do as a human. I mean, I remember when I was a newspaper reporter, they would send you to, like, a funeral or something, and they would ask you to talk to the family of somebody who had just died or been killed. And like that's really scary to do, because as a human. That's not really what you want to do. So I think a lot of this job is about being in places that you're not necessarily comfortable being in. I think it's a work in progress all the time. I don't know that it gets any easier to deal with all of it.
Every time you're sent to a new spot, does that then become your new semi permanent home?
This is our home. And when I say this is our home, like, we left Kenya with one more kid. Her passport forever says, born in Kenya. So this is where you make a home. This is where you settle in a house, where you find a school, where you make friends. This is 100% it. And I think I see it a lot in our kids, more. They have a full attachment to Kenya. Like that is where they grew up. You know, those kids, I don't know that they ever wore shoes. They were out and climbing things and their hands were rough, and if you say something about Kenya, they react. They defend that place.
And do they speak Swahili?
Ehhh, a little bit. Kenya is interesting because Kenya, especially Nairobi, is so English dominant. I mean, obviously, Swahili is big. But there's also 44 languages in Kenya. And so our little one, for example, her nanny was Kikuyu. And so she had some Kikuyu words. And then in South Africa, she used some Zulu words and her English is super South African. When it affects your children in that deep a way, you know this is your home. It is 100% your home. I mean, we live a privileged life, as people who earn dollars. There's no denying that. So we in a lot of ways live in a bubble. But it becomes home. Because when you say I'm going home, at some point it will be Mexico City. It's not quite that yet. But it certainly was Cape Town, South Africa. And it certainly was Kenya. It certainly was Nairobi. When you land in Nairobi, you're like, oh, I'm home. So, yeah, totally. It becomes your home.
That's amazing. I moved around a lot as a kid, too, so I can relate. But how do they transition, your wife, you as a family, to the different locations? How does that look for you all?
I mean, this is interesting, because I speak fluent Spanish. But, I am using a dictionary a lot here. It's not easy. It's the little things. It's the words. It starts with the words. Even in Kenya, the English is different. So, it's just starting with the words, in that, at first you're completely lost. And then it's every little part of it. Like what dishwashing liquid do you buy? And I think that's why the first few months are really stressful. And then it gets easier. It's living in a place. You get used to it. Like, you learn where to buy the bread you want. It's little by little. I think for the kids, it's really difficult, and they do it little by little, too. Speaking of getting settled, we're just picking up our three year old who doesn't speak a lick of Spanish and is in a fully Spanish Montessori.
So she's going to have to learn Spanish whether she likes it or not.
But she's three, so it shouldn't be too difficult.
She's three. She's already learning, she's already at it. I mean, kids are malleable, right?