Sioux City School Board President Perla Alarcon-Flory has earned the title of being a trailblazer.
In her professional life, the 46-year-old is well-known in the judicial and medical fields as a top-notch interpreter through her business, Perla J Alarcon-Flory LLC.
Outside of work, Perla has navigated the Woodbury County political arena since 2009. First as a volunteer member of Sioux City Community School District advisory board, she was then appointed to the Sioux City School Board in 2013 before she garnered the support of voters when she won her own term a year later.
Perla is the first Latino to lead Sioux City’s school board and her love for education is not only about curiosity but an inherited passion from her parents.
Guerrero, the Mexican state where Perla grew up, is also where her parents continuously preached the importance of education.
“The dinner conversation was always around what I and my two younger brothers were going to study in the future,” Perla said.
Interestingly enough, “Guerrero” means warrier and that she is.
As a daughter of educator parents, Perla always knew education was not only the key to success but also a way for others to improve their lives. Naturally, Perla went to college and graduated from the Universidad Hispano-Mexicana in Mexico City in 1997, earning a degree in international relations.
While still in school, Perla decided to come to Sioux City for a summer to improve her English since she already had friends in the area. During that summer, she met Nathan Flory, her now-husband of 22 years. After a three-year long-distance relationship, they married and she moved to Sioux City in 1999.
People bring their own experiences with them wherever they go, but when we speak about immigrants, they are not only bringing their suitcases, they also bring their language, customs, food, and culture with them, and Perla was no exception.
Those experiences helped her break the glass ceiling and become the first Latina to hold an elected position in Woodbury County. In Spanish, “Abriendo brecha” means “to open a path for others” and that is precisely what Perla has done.
“I am humbled and grateful that I am the first Latina holding this position,” Perla said. “I have a unique perspective to offer, 18% of our population in our city is Hispanic, 34% of the 15,000 students that we have in our district are Hispanic. I hope that my service, my work for all the students, to better in our school district, our community inspires other people to run, to serve, to take ownership, and make positive contributions to this town, to the state, to this country that is home.”
To have a Latina as a school board member benefits the entire district but particularly Latinos who usually lack representation and sometimes the luxury of communicating their needs and concerns because they do not speak the language.
“Since I moved to Sioux City, I noticed that people in my community didn’t know what resources or services were available, so everything is a matter of education, and also as an immigrant, you have a cultural shock in the way you raise your kids,” Perla said.
Perla noted it is important for all the students and families the district serves to understand what is needed from them and what do they need to do to be prepared for the labor market, for the future and to be successful.
“As our community and student population changes, we must understand and address the needs of all our students.”
A crossfire Perla did not expect to find herself was the battle between anti-masking parents and those who want to protect their children and others with face coverings. A federal judge placed a temporary restraining order on Iowa’s school mask mandate ban, prompting a rash of school boards across the state to decide whether to implement mandates are not.
In Sioux City, no board member seconded board vice president Monique Scarlet’s motion to implement mask mandate, effectively killing the measure since no action could be taken. Perla said she never imagined she would need to make life or death decisions to protect their students, their families, and the community at large.
She acknowledged the stress of making such decisions and understands that regardless of how hard the board works toward the best interest of their community, they will not make everyone happy.
Still, she enjoys serving her community in that capacity.
“We truly have the sacred responsibility to create and maintain safe, healthy, and nurturing learning environments where our children can gain knowledge, develop their talents and skills, discover their potential, and grow,” she said.
Iowa Starting Line will honor and celebrate Hispanic/Latino Heritage month by highlighting Iowa Latinos/Latinas who have made a lasting impact in their community and beyond.
UPDATE (Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, 1:50 p.m.): This story has been updated to correct two translations.
By Claudia Thrane