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Sioux City Latino communities highlighted in oral history project

A Sioux City project will document the diverse life experiences of the growing Latino population in northwest Iowa.

Morningside University Spanish professor Stacey Alex is collecting stories to put into an oral history of Latinos’ experiences in the region. In the future, Alex hopes that local schools can use the archive as a language-learning resource.

Alex said she wants to fill the gap in archival documentation of Latinos in the Midwest. She said the communities’ stories are excluded from these types of projects too often.

“I do really hope that by having an archive, we can continue to look at the ways that Latinx communities are experiencing success and really at the forefront of our social fabric,” she said.

Alex began the project two years ago with the help of a Morningside student, Damian Herrera, and funding from the university. The archiveholds storiesfrom students, public figures and business owners in Siouxland.

"You are part of the history of this town."
Perla Alarcon Flory, Sioux City school board member

Sioux City school board member, Perla Alarcon Flory, donated her story to the archive. She moved from Iowa from Mexico in 2001 and became the first person of Latin heritage to be elected to public office in Woodbury County.

Alarcon Flory said she hopes by sharing her experiences, others in her community will feel less alone.

“We have a very diverse population that many times don't see themselves reflected anywhere,” Alarcon Flory said. “And so having their voices somehow echoed or finding someone that they can connect with becomes important.”

The video interviews, conducted in Spanish, will also be available as a resource to local schools for language learning classes. Alex said her goal is to compile the stories in a textbook that can be used to help heritage speakers, or individuals who have an initial understanding of the language from their families.

She said it’s important that students see their own communities reflected in their coursework.

A 1930 document reads "Viva el inmortal Hidalgo". It's a program from a Mexican Independence Day celebration.
Sioux City Public Museum
This program comes from a Mexican Independence Day celebration held in September 1930 here in Sioux City.

“So students understand that their goal is not just this abstract idea of using language, but that we're learning language to really work with our communities and learn from our communities,” she said.

Alex said she hopes the archive can help highlight the contributions Latinos have made to Sioux City and their important role in its history.

Latinos make up 20% of Sioux City’s population, according to the 2020 Census. But, the community has a long history in the region. In 1990, more than 2,000 residents of the town were of Hispanic heritage,the third largest in Iowa.

In Alarcon Flory’s two decades of living in Sioux City, she said she’s seen the Latino population grow and change. She said she hopes the documentation of its stories will remind people of their importance to the community.

“You are part of the history of this town,” she said. “And if your life can be of service to anyone, if your experience can be of service to anyone, I think that it is a very humbling but also empowering experience.”

Kendall was Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA until Jan. 20, 2023.