Guatemalan-American Angelina Perez makes political debut as Indiantown Councilwoman
INDIANTOWN – Since 1988, the United States has celebrated National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 to pay homage to the success of Hispanics who immigrated from Spain and the Spanish-speaking nations of the Americas and the Caribbean searching for a better way of life for themselves and their offspring. Newly elected Indiantown Councilwoman Angelina Perez represents the culmination of the American Dream for the latter, the daughter of Guatemalan migrant farmworkers who chose to make Indiantown their permanent home.
A native of Stuart, Ms. Perez, 36, has lived her entire life in this far western hamlet of Martin County. She attended both Warfield elementary and Indiantown Middle School before attending South Fork High School, the destination for all Indiantown high-schoolers prior to the opening this year of the first Indiantown High School on a provisional campus at the Bill & Barbara Whitman Boys & Girls Club. An employee of Indiantown Non-Profit Housing, Inc., Ms. Perez decided to run against Councilwoman Jackie Gary-Clarke for Seat 4 in the August 23 Primary Election Race after hearing from residents who felt the then-current board members were unresponsive to their needs. She beat the incumbent by 43 votes.
“My achievement makes me feel so proud that I was able to win an election and showing the younger kiddos anything is possible,” she said. “It's a big responsibility. I have so much to learn about how the process of government works. I want to learn and see what I can do that best serves the Village of Indiantown.”
A second-generation American, Ms. Perez recalls asking her father when she was much younger why he and her mother decided to settle permanently in Indiantown since they previously migrated all over the country following the crop harvests.
“He said it’s because it was small and a lot of their friends said, come to Indiantown,” she said. “So, it was either going to be Indiantown or Immokalee. And I told my dad, thank you for choosing Indiantown.”
As a result, both she and her twin sister were born in Stuart, and she’s now continuing the family small-town tradition, raising her own two sons in the Village of Indiantown.
“My dad said that Indiantown was going to be the best place to raise us, and it was,” Ms. Perez continued. “That’s what I tell my kids: Maybe go away to college, but come back and invest into your town. This is the place where we live.”
The new Seat 4 Councilwoman has such a passion for children that she – along with her husband – founded the Indiantown Warriors Soccer Club in 2018 to instill their passion for the sport into the hearts, minds and bodies of Indiantown youth.
“My passion are the children of Indiantown,” she exclaimed. “I love for them to be involved, and I support the children when needed. Children are the future leaders of Indiantown.”
One of her warmest memories growing up in Indiantown was that “everybody knew everybody” and townspeople took it upon themselves to watch after each other’s children. In recent years she’s noticed a division between ethnic groups “that wasn’t there before” and hopes to use her time on the Village Council to restore that sense of community pride and belonging.
“I hope what I can achieve with my fellow council members is to unite the community and work together to make great things happen for Indiantown,” she said.
Ms. Perez is particularly proud that her oldest son, although not college-bound at the moment, had decided to remain in Indiantown and learn a trade in order to hopefully have his own business there one day.
“He wants to do heating, ventilation and air conditioning,” she said. “You know there’s always a need for HVAC, but he said, I want to open my business here in Indiantown, and this is where I want to build my life. That’s something I want for all our current residents, that they’re able to have their business here and make it happen. Some kids when they go off to college, they don’t come back, so I’m happy he’s decided to stay.”
The roots of National Hispanic Heritage Month actually lie with President Lyndon Johnson, who first inaugurated Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968. Two decades later, President Ronald Reagan expanded the celebration to cover a 30-day period running between mid-September and mid-October. The celebration was formally codified into law on Aug. 17, 1988.
For the last several years, the National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Managers has held an annual competition beginning in February to choose a theme for each year’s Hispanic Heritage Month. This year’s winning theme, Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation, was submitted by Ily Soares, a supervisory accountant with the Virginia-based Farm Credit Administration.
“Hispanics in the United States are a diverse group who bring a rich combination of language, culture, educational backgrounds and experience to the great American experiment,” she wrote as part of her contest submittal. “We call on citizens of this nation from all walks of life to look around and welcome new voices to the table. This will help us build stronger communities, and in turn, a stronger nation.”