When I first met George I. Sanchez in 1963 I was a member of the Southwest Council of Foreign Language Teachers organized by María Esman (Barker) and María Urquides. I was then teaching French at Jefferson High School in El Paso, Texas. Esman was Coordinator of Foreign Languages for the El Paso Independent School District; Urquides was a Spanish teacher at Tucson’s Pueblo High School and an advocate for bilingual education (later she would be considered the “mother” of bilingual education). The Council had invited Sanchez to speak at one of our meetings.
In 1964 the name of the Southwest Council of Foreign Language Teachers was changed to the Southwest Council for Bilingual Education which sponsored the Symposium on Bilingual Education held in Tucson in 1966. This was the second time I met George I Sanchez who along with María Esman and María Urquides appeared before Texas Senator Ralph Yarbrough’s congressional committee on behalf of bilingual education. The testimony was so compelling that Congress enacted the Bilingual Education Act of 1968.
With grueling progress, Sanchez drew attention to the dismal state of education for Mexican Americans in New Mexico. From 1938 to 1940 he surveyed Taos County, New Mexico, for the Carnegie Foundation, a survey that resulted in his book, Forgotten People: A Study of New Mexicans (first work to use sociological methods to document the concerns and experiences of “New Mexicans) which, as he explained to me during one of our encounters, drew such harsh criticism from New Mexican legislators that he left New Mexico for the University of Texas where they appreciated him and where he thrived. He was the university’s first professor Latin American Studies and later served as the chair of the Department of History and Philosophy. The year after arriving in Austin, Sánchez became the national president of LULAC (1941-1942, the major civil rights organization for Latinos in the U.S founded in 1928 in Corpus Christi, Texas (http://www.lulac.org/about/history.html).
Son of Telesforo and Juliana Sánchez, George I. Sanchez was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Both of his parents’ families had been in New Mexico since early colonial days. He received the B.A. in Spanish and Education from the University of New Mexico, the M.S. in Educational Psychology and Spanish from the University of Texas, and the Ed.D. in 1934 from the University of California at Berkeley. “His master’s thesis at the University of Texas was one of the earliest studies to question the use of standardized tests for Spanish-speaking children” (Texas State Historical Association, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/ online/articles/fsa20).
Two landmark court cases in which Dr. Sanchez figured prominently were Delgado v. Gracy (1948) and Hernandez v. Texas (1954). The Delgado case successfully challenged and set a precedent–-the legality of separating and treating Mexican-American children as a class apart. The other case, Hernandez v. Texas was the first U.S. Supreme Court case concerning Mexican-American rights and was decided unanimously in favor of the plaintiffs. Sanchez was credited for developing the theoretical basis for the brief—class apart theory–that it was illegal to discriminate and segregate based on Spanish surname. The documentary A Class Apart by award-winning filmmakers Carlos Sandoval and Peter Miller is based on Hernandez v. Texas.
Although Mexican Americans are still confronted today by de facto segregation and job discrimination, it is of historical and legal interest that Mexican American legal victories, in areas such as school desegregation, predated by many years the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education and the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Sanchez’ pioneering leadership and the activities of ACSSP merit examination if we are to fully comprehend the historical struggle of the Mexican American civil rights movement. –Ricardo Romo, George I. Sanchez and the Civil Rights Movement: 1940-1960, Berkeley, La Raza Law Journal, Volume 1, Number, 3, 1986
In a 1970 encounter at the University of Texas at Austin Dr. Sanchez and I shared a comparison between Forgotten People and Montezuma’s Children my work on the dismal state of education for Mexican Americans in Texas, published by The Center Magazine of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions as a Cover Story, (November/December 1970) which received the John Maynard Hutchins Citation for Distinguished Journalism and entered into The Congressional Record 116, No. 189 (November 25, 1970, S-18961-S19865) by Senator Ralph Yarbrough (D-TX) who recommended it for a Pulitzer.
The last time I saw George Sanchez was in 1971 at the University of Texas at Austin for a gathering with Americo Paredes and Rolando Hinojosa. He was 65 and frail—I was 44 and Founding Director of the first Chicano Studies program in Texas at UT-El Paso. Afflicted by tuberculosis and other ailments, bent by them but not bowed, Sanchez was always affable with me though at times he was critical of Chicano activists.
More recently, Carlos Kevin Blanton has produced what is currently the definitive biography of George I. Sanchez: The Long Fight for Mexican American Integration (The Lamar Series in Western History, Yale, 2013) and properly places him as the stellar activist of the Mexican American generation (1930-1960) referring to him as the most important Mexican American intellectual of this period. Reviewing Blanton’s book in the Texas Observer, Ronnie Dugger wrote: “Blanton’s book should be required reading in Texas as the state’s coming Hispanic majority grows into position to control Texas politics.”
Sanchez went on to lament the fact there was not a “single national foundation that is specifically concerned with Spanish-speaking people or with the sort of situation which confronts us in Texas.” He ended his letter by affirming that if such an organization were founded, “I would be willing to devote the rest of my life to making it go.” –Romo, 351
In 1982 That Foundation was established by Dr. Domingo Nick Reyes as the Hispanic Foundation in Washington, DC but floundered by 1986. Dr. Sanchez would have made it “go”—I’m sure.
In the Preface to the 1940 edition of The Forgotten People,
Dr. Sanchez declared his intent “to go behind and beyond the facts in an attempt to achieve subjective identification with the New Mexican and to give life to the facts and color to their portrayal. In a recent preface to the reissue of The Forgotten People, Dr. Sanchez commented recently: In those distant younger days, though I did not ignore reality, I did harbor a modicum of optimism, maybe, somehow the forgotten people of my homeland would be remembered and redeemed. Maybe as the nation grew more affluent and wiser perhaps, it would roll back the pages of history and pay the long overdue debt it incurred when it forced itself on my people. I had hopes, though very slim ones, that at the very least , a repentant nation would lift ourselves by our bootstraps. Instead it took away our boots. Patricia Arroz, “George I. Sanchez: in Memoriam,” La Luz Magazine, December, 1972,
A prolific writer, his activism on behalf of Mexican Americans was legion borne out by the number of schools named after him. His papers are in the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin. Following his death in 1972, the National Education Association sponsored the George I. Sánchez Memorial Award to recognize him as the “father of the movement for quality education for Mexican-Americans.” And in 1998, the University of Texas renamed the College of Education building the George I. Sánchez building.
Copyright 2017 by Philip De Ortego y Gasca. All photos and book covers used under the “fair use” proviso of the copyright law.
George I. Sánchez Publications and Bibliography
Credit: James M. Mowry
Author of 55 publications written in New Mexico
Author of 60 publications written in Texas
• Five Books
• 105 articles and monographs in fifteen different local
academic journals/newspapers and fifteen different national academic journals/handbooks
• Six chapters or sections in other books
Sánchez Articles in Academic Journals
• Human Growth and Development
• Progressive Education
• Academy of Political and Social Science
• Curriculum Journal
• The LULAC News
• Phi Delta Kappan
• Childhood Education
• The Educational Forum
• The Nation’s Schools
• Educacíón Nacional
• Encyclopedia of Modern Education
• Comparative Education
• Journal of Elementary Education
• Educational Leadership
• Texas Observer
• Texas Journal of Secondary Ed.
• The Chicago Jewish Forum
• Educational Research Bulletin
• UNM Bulletin
• General Services Bulletin
• New Mexico School Review
• Journal of Genetic Psychology
• Journal of Educational Research
• New Mexico Press
• New Mexico State Tribune
• US Daily
• Albuquerque Tribune
• Journal of Applied Psychology
• New Mexico Quarterly
• New Mexico Business Review
• The Taxpayer
• Journal of Social Psychology