San Diego-based Vianney Harelly is a writer, artist, and public speaker. The raw emotion in her work has touched the hearts of many, and she has continued to make her mark by bringing awareness to generational trauma as well as emotional healing. I had the wonderful opportunity to ask @vianneyharelly (Instagram and Tiktok) questions about her process and beliefs. Her new collection of poetry, Here Are The Tears I You We Didn’t Cry, released on December 2, is now available for purchase.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently, I am working on getting my books to their new homes and dreaming of bigger projects for my writing/art.
Do you have any pre-writing rituals?
Usually, most of my poems come to me naturally when an emotion in me is evoked. That’s why I always either carry a journal or have my notes app ready. For example, I could be walking down the street and there might be a sound, smell, or sight that reminds me of a feeling or memory and the poem just starts in my head. I just write it all down hasta desahogarme [even vent]. I am a visual person so I get inspired by a lot of things I see. I try to make my space (a corner in my apartment I made into an office) a physical manifestation of my imagined safe space. I hope it resembles places in different cities that would inspire me. Music is a very significant part of my creative process. In my mind, every moment of my life has a soundtrack. Sometimes when I am feeling uninspired or have a creative block I play songs to evoke specific feelings and it just does it naturally for me.
Do you remember the moment you fell in love with writing and being creative in general?
I remember it very vividly and very often. It was when I was in sixth grade. My parents had decided my sister and I should now go to school in the U.S. We were still living in Tijuana so we would cross everyday. A few weeks into the semester my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Rosillo, told me about an essay contest. I immediately said no because I couldn’t really read or write English so I felt embarrassed and insecure. He was persistent and told me he would help me through the whole process and we could use Google Translate or the dictionary. I turned in my essay not expecting much but weeks later he called my mom and told her I had won. Weeks later the award ceremony took place and I was to read my essay to the public. As I was reading it I looked up and noticed not just my family but strangers crying. That was the exact moment I realized the power of my words. I haven’t stopped writing since. It’s been 15 years.
A lot of your poetry is about generational trauma and about your relationship with your mother. How did she react to your poems?
The two books before Here Are the Tears I You We Didn’t Cry have no poems about my mother’s wound. Those, I assume, were a little easier for her to digest. I just recently gifted her my newest book and so far she hasn’t said anything in reaction to it. Once in a while I still fear the idea of her being angry or sad but this is also my story and my truth. Aunque algunas verdades duelan [even if the truth hurts], they need to be shared so we can heal.
Do you ever feel embarrassed or insecure when your family reads your work?
More than embarrassed, I think I feared losing their approval or validation as someone who was known as the “perfect” and “good” oldest daughter, nieta [granddaughter], sobrina [niece]. I was scared of now being known as la mal agradecida [ungrateful], egoísta [selfish] y amargada [embittered]. Therapy helped me realize that the way people perceive me is not an actual reflection of who I am. How people react to my boundaries or story is out of my control and says more about them. As a result I don’t mind so much anymore and hope they can heal something with my work.
What was the most difficult part in the process of creating a book?
The most difficult was learning how to design a cover and navigate formatting/layout. The Plants Are Burning was the first book I self published and everything I did for it was learned through videos and tutorials online. As a perfectionist who has a hard time dealing with failure or making mistakes, this was very stressful.
Do you plan on going on tour?
I would love to! It’s a little hard because I have a dog that is very needy and anxious (he’s like my son) so I feel guilty leaving him but I know that the universe will gift me the opportunity when it’s time.
In an Instagram post, there’s a photo where there are two of you holding your own book with a heart above. Is this in reference to the painting, “The Two Fridas” by Kahlo? What do you think of the criticisms she gets for being half-German?
It is a reference to Las Dos Fridas. It is also a reference to the duality of my work and identity (Spanglish, for example). Before being educated in Frida Kahlo’s appropriation of Zapotec and Tehuana culture I was very inspired by her (not just artistically but by her resilience and political activism as well). That’s why my first two books, Girasol and The Plants Are Burning, have a lot of poems that reference her or her work, because those books have poems I wrote in 2015-2017. They reflect the person I was back then. Just like healing, decolonizing, learning, and unlearning is a lifelong process. Her strength and passion is still undeniable and admirable, but of respect for the indigenous communities she appropriated (even if her intention was not such), I no longer reference her in my recent work.
What does being Mexican mean to you?
Being Mexican to me means home. It is being proud of our culture and how far we have come, while still continuing to work on unlearning legacies of colonization that still haunt us and continuing to decolonize so we can build a better future for generations to come.
How do you stay in touch with your heritage?
I stay in touch with my heritage by continuing to learn and honor my history and roots. Also by visiting places, listening to music, enjoying food, moments and people that remind me of home and keeping it alive through my poetry.
What do you think about Hispanic families that give their kids nicknames like flaca[skinny] , gorda [fat], or morenita[dark skinned]?
As someone who constantly gets called these things by family even when I have shared my discomfort, I feel very strongly against it. I have always been very vocal about how I feel even outside my own family. I think doing so continues to perpetuate internalized racism, colorism and eurocentric standards our ancestors have fought so hard against. A lot of people think it’s innocent, silly or a joke but as I have always said, words have meaning and weight, and they come from somewhere. Sometimes the impact of our words have heavier intentions and a much deeper root.
Why do you think it’s difficult for Latina/Chicana/Hispanic women to heal from their trauma, or even just be coy about it?
It is very difficult to heal within a society/culture that continues to cater to the patriarchy. Not to mention mental health is a taboo topic in Latin culture. Women also usually tend to be described as “sensitive,” “hysterical” and “dramatic” and we continue to see instances in which their safety, livelihood and journey is constantly ignored and ridiculed so I feel like that makes women a little discouraged. Given the pedestal we put mothers and women on based on machismo, the religion most Latinos identify with, and just societal expectations, we just have so many things we have to balance on top of our healing, which makes our process heavier and slower.
What advice would you give to people healing?
I always say: remember healing is never linear. There will be proud moments, there will be happy moments, there will be sad moments, hopeful moments, angry moments and proud moments again. It is all a cycle. Do not be hard on yourself if you catch yourself falling back into an old pattern or repeating one. These are wounds and issues that have existed in our families, communities and culture for decades. Give yourself props for attempting to end them. Be kind to your present and past self. Sit with your inner child and tell them how much you love them.