Pereira was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Her family moved frequently until finally settling in Brooklyn, New York, sometime between 1916 and 1921. Growing up she had dreams of becoming a writer. Upon moving to Brooklyn she frequented the public library where she became familiar with the work of such authors as Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray. Pereira took vocational courses in high school, and over the next few years she was regularly employed as a stenographer. After graduation she signed up for a variety of evening classes. She studied fashion design at the Traphagen School of Fashion in Brooklyn, literature at New York University, and art at Manhattans Washington Irving High School. The experience at Washington Irving High School led her to take night classes at the Art Students League beginning in the fall of 1927 and continuing until the spring of 1931. There her teachers included Richard Lahey, William von Schlegell, and Jan Matulka, who had the greatest impact on her work.
During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Matulka was one of a small but important group of American artists painting in a Cubist manner. His artistic circle included Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky and John D. Graham. At this time his work was influenced by the contemporary paintings of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.