The following interview was conducted in July 2020 with Erika Quinteros, author and illustrator of TOMASA TITO CONDEMAYTA: Una historia de valor y coraje. Erika Quinteros is an industrial engineer with a Master’s degree in Political Communication and Governance from the George Washington University. She has worked as a consultant in the design and evaluation of community development projects. She has a particular interest in issues of gender, the rights of indigenous people, and environmental protection.
What inspired you to write the story of Tomasa Tito Condemayta?
It was Tomasa herself and her powerful story. She was an indigenous woman leading a battalion of women to fight against the Spanish. This happened during a period when many Peruvians believe that women had no military or political role.
I think, having grown up reading so many different books and being inspired by people overseas, I just couldn’t believe that no one had told me Tomasa’s story. She was Peruvian, like me. She was a woman, like me. And even though I am not indigenous, my grandmother was indigenous, part of me is indigenous. In Peru, our national heroes are mostly wealthy white men. I think every child should be able to learn about heroes that she or he can identify with, and I am sure many will be fascinated and inspired by Tomasa and her courage.
What was your process like in both illustrating and writing your book?
There was a lot of research involved. I traveled to Cusco, to the communities where Tomasa lived and waged war, and I reviewed the available historical sources and records. Once I knew the story I wanted to tell, I started writing. I tried to tell a complex story in simple words. I divided the story by pages and started working on the illustrations. That was a very tough part: I love drawing and painting, but I am not a professional artist. So it was often a lot of work to create an image that really captured Tomasa’s spirit. But imagining that a child could feel the way I feel about Tomasa’s story made me keep going, and I am really glad I persisted.
Why did you decide to write this book in both English and Spanish? Can we expect the book to be translated into any other languages?
I decided to make the book bilingual because I wanted it to be accessible to an English-speaking audience, too. There are a lot of Peruvian children living in the United States and elsewhere who may not speak Spanish, and this book can be a way for them to connect to their roots. And you don’t need to be Peruvian to enjoy this story, because it’s really universal. I’d love to see a Quechua edition in the future, since that is the language that Tomasa and her troops would have spoken, and it’s still spoken by millions of indigenous people in Peru. Unfortunately, I can’t write in Quechua; I am studying the language, but it is a work in progress.
What do you hope readers will gain from this story?
I hope Tomasa’s story serves to inspire them, as it has for me. I hope many indigenous girls can look up to a role model that looks like them, an indigenous woman. I would like children from all backgrounds to have a broader vision of what a hero looks like, to understand that there are always special and courageous people out there fighting for change and for a better life in their community, in their country, and in the world.
What other unsung heroes do you think are worthy of more celebration?
I think there are a lot of women, in particular, who are unsung heroes, because women have played a key role in many different aspects of the political, social, and cultural development of every country, but they have been erased from history or had their role downplayed.
For example, Irene Salvador was a labor leader from my native region–the Norte Chico of Peru–who was murdered while defending her rights. She was one of the many women who played a key role in winning the right to an eight-hour workday. However, when we talk about this history, we mostly talk about the contribution of men.
What’s next for you?
I am a consultant working on developing community projects, and I love working in that field. However, I hope I can always find time to keep learning more about my beloved Peru and telling other inspiring stories.
You can find Tomasa’s story on Amazon Kindle.
Follow Erika Quinteros: