Whether performing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, Teatro alla Scala in Milan or the Lyric Opera in Chicago, soprano Ailyn Pérez says her roots as an alumna of Arlington Heights-based Township High School District 214 are never far from her mind.

Pioneer Press recently caught up with Pérez, 37, days before she was headed to Washington, D.C., where she is being honored with a 2017 Sphinx Medal of Excellence, an annual award that recognizes outstanding artists of color whose accomplishments distinguish them among musicians in the field.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood and how you discovered your passion for music?

A: I am extremely lucky to have parents who are Mexican immigrants because music and singing are a very important part of our culture. Being a child with immigrant parents is still an experience I’m learning about as I meet more people who had similar experiences. My family moved from the South Side of Chicago to Elk Grove Village when I was in elementary school, which demographically was a big change for me because all of my friends in the city were either Hispanic or African-American. As I look back, when we first moved to the suburbs, I felt like I never fit in, which, I think, has made me really sensitive, intuitive and empathetic as a performer. It was really hard to make friends, and this is why music helped me so much. By fourth grade, I was encouraged to join the orchestra at Salt Creek Elementary School, and I fell in love with the cello, which was the beginning of my love for music, and the way I make friends.

Read the entire feature via the Chicago Tribune