Changing Lives: Perla Molina
Against the odds
For those who consider demographic profiles an accurate predictor of success, recent master’s graduate Perla Molina is an anomaly. She is the daughter of Mexican migrant workers who moved with the crops from Florida to New York and back again, until her father took a steady job in Homestead, Fla., so Perla and her twin sister, Brenda, could go to school.
Her father abandoned the family, which also includes a younger sister and brother, when the twins were 9. Since her mother spoke no English, Molina accompanied her to welfare offices to interpret while Brenda cared for the younger children. The family survived, although the children barely saw their mother, who worked 60 or 70 hours a week, often until 2 a.m.
Then in 1992, Hurricane Andrew swept away their foundation: All of their possessions were gone, as was Mrs. Molina’s employment. They moved to Dallas because it was a place she could find work, it was close to Mexico where the grandparents live, and there were no hurricanes. But even family members in Arizona proved unsupportive. Opposed to divorce, relatives chided the hard-working mother that her children would come to no good due to lack of supervision.
That was only one of the prophecies Perla shredded with hard work and determination.
The Manhattan Institute for Public Policy Research reported this year that, despite recent progress, only 52 percent of Hispanic students who enter high school graduate. Out of 10 who do graduate, only one will finish college. With the Molinas, Perla said, the question was never “if” they went to college, but where and how.
“My mother worked in restaurants, cleaned houses, she worked all the time. She told us constantly that education was the only way to improve our lives.”
Molina, now 27, graduated with honors from UT Dallas in 2000. When the twins were 19, both going to college and working, they bought their family a modest home. That house is now rental property; they later bought another home closer to work and school. Molina works for the Dallas County Community College District in recruitment and outreach primarily with the Hispanic community, helping others achieve the goal she accomplished. She loves the work and plans to continue.
“I met Perla the first semester,” recalled recent graduate Veronica Diaz, who works for Frito-Lay. “She was amazing—working and taking nine hours, but still so eager to help other students.”
Diaz said the business-writing course was particularly difficult for everyone, not just the international students. Molina, who has strong grammar skills, spent hours guiding other students on their papers.
“She really loves to help people. It’s what she’s all about,” Diaz said.
Molina herself had help along the way, primarily from MSMR Program Director John Bassler.
“His support and faith in me really got me through,” she said. “We had our little talks. Whether he knows it or not, these really helped me to continue in the program.”
Molina’s siblings are continuing their educations, too. Her twin sister plans to start this fall on a master’s degree in school psychology at the University of North Texas. Younger sister Anna, 20, is studying graphic arts at UTA, and 18-year-old brother Luis recently graduated from Grand Prairie High School.
They’re defying demographic predictions—just like Perla.
— Sue Stevens