Tlaloc Alferez’s ambition was as strong as that of her father, art deco sculptor Enrique Alferez, but from an early age she worked hard to pursue her own goals: first to be a professional ballet dancer and, later on, the physician she is today.
“I loved the dance; the dance was my life!” says Alferez, now an internist and infectious disease specialist on the West Bank. She abandoned her ballet goal after failing to get into the school run by famed New York City Ballet choreographer George Balanchine, then devoted herself to flamenco, the highly controlled style of Spanish dance accompanied by guitar and clapping hands.
Since her father’s death in 1999 at the age of 98, Alferez has devoted herself to two things: running her thriving solo medical practice in Marrero and exercising “the privilege” of being curator of the large number of her dad’s sculptures and drawings inside the Irish Channel compound she shared for years with him and her American mother, Peggy, who died in 2005.
Alferez provided many of her father’s pieces from her personal collection for the Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s recent retrospective about the Mexican-born artist whose muscular sculptures are familiar sights in many public places around New Orleans.
Born in Mexico and named after the Aztec rain god, Alferez grew up living half of year in different parts of Mexico and the other half in the French Quarter.
When she and her parents moved to Morelia, Mexico to live, then-16-year-old Alferez was faced with deciding what she wanted to become. On the advice of her mother, she pursued a bachelor’s degree in pre-medicine, thereby committing herself to several years of rigorous training.
After earning her undergraduate degree at Morelia’s Instituto Valladolid Plancarte and medical degree at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Guadalajara, Alferez returned to New Orleans to continue her training at Tulane University, where she was a resident physician from 1982 to ’85, and a fellow in infectious disease from ’85 to ’87.
She also trained at Charity Hospital and remains a sharp critic of the state’s move to close it after Hurricane Katrina and build a replacement. Unless the state also supplies money to pay people to run the new hospital, she says, “We are going to be no better off than if we didn’t have a hospital.”
In her passionate commentary are flashes of the grit her father showed in 1930 at Lakefront Airport when he slept with a rifle by his side for three nights to ward off threatened vandalism to the only male among four nude statues he’d made for a fountain there.
Mentor: Dr. Newton Hyslop, who was from Harvard and was chief of infectious disease at Tulane University Medical School when I was there. I learned to think out the whole disease process and take into consideration any of the complications of the process and potential complications of treatment to prepare for as many eventualities as we could.
Defining Moment: One defining moment was as a young teenager, I was not selected to study with Balanchine, the great choreographer, in New York; therefore ballet was no longer a potential dream. I studied flamenco after I didn’t continue studying ballet. Another defining moment was the day I had the privilege of walking through the front entrance of Charity Hospital to begin my residency.
Advice to Young Women: Young women nowadays need to get as good an education as they possibly can and should try to be financially independent so that then they can dare to not have to fit into the preconceived molds of what a woman should be … I think they should do it with grace and manners, always considering other people’s feelings but not necessarily kowtowing to everyone’s needs.
Goals: Both short- and long-term, to become a better human being and better companion to the love of my life, Jim Woods, the man I respect the most, a social worker, a classical and flamenco guitarist and a good father and grandfather
Favorite Things About What I Do: I love the detective work of infectious disease and the mystery of infectious diseases. I love the fact that they change around the world … all of this makes trying to keep up in the world with what’s going on quite a challenge.