Dream in Color: How the Sánchez Sisters Are Making History in Congress

Dream in Color: How the Sánchez Sisters Are Making History in Congress

by Linda Sánchez, Loretta Sánchez

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By sharing moments from their childhood in Southern California, Linda and Loretta will pass on the values and traditions they learned from their parents--Mexican immigrants who, despite not having graduated high school themselves, made sure all seven of their children went to and graduated from college--that enabled them to conquer challenges and make history. They


By sharing moments from their childhood in Southern California, Linda and Loretta will pass on the values and traditions they learned from their parents--Mexican immigrants who, despite not having graduated high school themselves, made sure all seven of their children went to and graduated from college--that enabled them to conquer challenges and make history. They will speak frankly on the professional highs and lows, successes and scandals that constitute their distinguished careers, and show that the key to realizing your dreams is, above all else, always be true to yourself.

Often considered Congress's Odd Couple, these warm witty sisters are not only perfect role models for young Latinas in the US, but for all young women looking to break out and create a brighter future for themselves.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this joint memoir, congresswomen Linda and Loretta Sanchez present their compelling story-noteworthy not only for their history-making achievements (including first sisters or women of any relation to serve together in Congress, first woman and person of color to represent a district in Orange County, first Latina on the House Judiciary Committee and first Head Start child to be elected to Congress) but also for its "American Dream" aspect-their parents immigrated from Mexico and despite lacking a formal education managed to send their seven children to college. Interweaving childhood vignettes with accounts of serving in Congress, both from California, this refreshing book evades many of the tropes of the typical political memoir-perhaps because these two women are not typical politicians. "Having the courage of your convictions," writes Linda, "that is tested a lot in the Congress.... I'm not paranoid about losing office, so there's no need for me to compromise my values." The Sanchez sisters vividly demonstrate the power of hard work and steady determination in this inspiring portrait of an extraordinary family. (Sept.)

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Library Journal

The lives of the Sánchez sisters seem almost too good to be true, but the road to Capitol Hill for these successful Latinas (both Democrats) was paved with hard work, determination, and, most important, dedicated Mexican-immigrant parents who confidently believed that this is the land of opportunity. Loretta had been a successful financial manager before she won California's 47th congressional district seat in 1996. Her younger sister, Linda, was a labor-relations attorney before she became the newly created California 39th congressional representative in 2003. Loretta is the ranking female Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, and Linda is the first Latina to serve on the House Judiciary Committee. Written as a first-person dialog with Loretta's words printed in serif type and Linda's in sans serif, the book describes growing up in a family of seven children, who helped each other and their parents make sense of American culture and its educational systems. Each sister describes her struggle to win elective office and fight against sexism and racism in the halls of Congress as well as among some of their campaigns' opponents. Their story is fascinating and uplifting and deserves wide readership. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Jill Ortner, SUNY at Buffalo Libs.

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Grand Central Publishing
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Dream in Color

How the Sánchez Sisters Are Making History in Congress

By Linda Sánchez Loretta Sánchez
Grand Central Publishing
Copyright © 2008

Linda Sánchez
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-446-50804-9

Chapter One Mi Casa Es Su Casa

In 1851, Israel Washburn was elected to Congress. Two years later, Elihu Washburne joined him in the House of Representatives. Perhaps the extra e at the end of Elihu's last name prevented people from realizing it at the time, but these were the first brothers ever to serve in Congress.

About a century later, a young Mexican woman made the decision to head north in pursuit of a better life. If she had been informed during that exhausting journey, when her future was just a giant question mark, that two of her seven yet-to-be-born children would become the first sisters in the American Congress, she would have been incredulous. And yet, that's exactly what happened.

In January 2003, precisely 150 years after the aforementioned brothers' names were written into the history books, Loretta and Linda Sánchez, daughters of immigrants Maria Macias and Ignacio Sánchez, became the first sisters in Congress. Before this, 1,881 relatives had served in the House, but never sisters. Why did it take so long? And what enabled us to finally break through this most resilient of barriers?

Of course, we're delighted to be the first and, so far, only sisters on Capitol Hill, but we're also disheartened. As we stride down the halls of the Longworth Building, racing to the next vote, why don't we see more faces like our own, female or Latino? Anyone who's glanced at recent U.S. population statistics knows that the word minority is rapidly becoming a misnomer, as 35 million Hispanics certainly don't sound all that minor to us. Okay, so we're the exception. But we shouldn't be. And that's why we want to tell our story - to inspire others to pursue a career in public service, and to ultimately speed up the sluggish transition to a more representative government.

Step into our world, both political and personal, and take a behind-the-scenes look at our joint and individual experiences. After all, despite sharing the same background and many similar views, we're also two very distinct individuals: Loretta the businesswoman, Linda the lawyer; Loretta the neat freak, Linda the leave-it-where-it-drops specialist; Loretta the exercise-conscious early riser, Linda the late stop-out who's returning home just as her big sister is getting up. It would make for some engaging interaction if we shared a home together in Washington, D.C.


To a certain extent we grew up together, but in many ways we didn't. I'm the second among seven kids, Linda's number six, and the older siblings usually stayed together and the younger ones played together. However, the older ones also had to take care of the younger ones, so from changing Linda's diapers when she was a baby to watching over her and our youngest brother, Michael, when our mom had to work or run errands, I served as a sort of surrogate mother.


She always had her soapbox and was preaching about eating the right food, doing chores, and taking care of ourselves to the point where sometimes I felt like I might as well be living in a convent. She was not only a caregiver, but a disciplinarian as well. While our parents were stricter with the older siblings and more lenient by the time they got around to us, it was the older siblings who were super strict with the younger. Still, I don't think I ever consciously thought about defying them. In Latino families, there's a lot of deference given by younger kids to older siblings, because you're supposed to respect authority. So, while Loretta might recall me disobeying her, I didn't ever purposely resist what she told me to do.


I'd agree with that. When there are seven kids, you have to keep control or chaos will ensue, and so there was a lot of discipline in our home. Having been raised strictly myself, I was the same with the younger set when I was in charge. I was responsible for them, and I tried to use the same parenting techniques that I saw my mom use. I think Linda used to call me the Witch.


Actually, it was the Warden. While Henry was the firstborn among the siblings, for all intents and purposes Loretta was the eldest. She was the one who took charge.


That's largely because Henry is an artist and a dreamer. As the head guy he always took the brunt of our parents' discipline. He was expected to do everything right, and for the most part he did. But at the same time, being a dreamer, he didn't want to be in control of the younger kids, so he handed that responsibility to me.


On Saturdays we had to get up and do chores. I think our parents' philosophy was that if we were busy we'd be too tired to get into trouble. So, they pushed us to study, to be involved in sports, and, on Saturday mornings, to do chores around the house. Mom would go into the kitchen at some ungodly hour and quite literally rattle the pots and pans as an alarm clock, and then Loretta would act as the overseer, checking to make sure we weren't goofing off, then reporting back on our performance! That's why she was the Warden.


I was the one with white gloves. I did my own chores, but I also had to make sure everyone else stayed in line.


We didn't actually rebel, but revenge was sometimes exacted on her. We knew, for example, that Loretta was deathly afraid of June bugs, so we'd place them on her face while she was asleep or tangle them in her hair, and then watch as she screamed and Dad held her down, trying to pull each of them out.


Initially, my role was to help prevent chaos, account for everybody, and keep the home orderly, because my mother had so many things to do. But eventually, as I began experiencing things that our parents had never experienced, I turned into a sort of advance scout for the younger siblings.

For example, right from the start our parents wanted all of their kids to go to college, but when I had to decide which college to attend, Dad said it should be USC, where Henry was already going. The reason? "They have a good football team!" He had no idea about choosing a college based on our interests and what classes were being offered. He could only relate to it in the way that he knew. I didn't know much either, because my school counselors hardly acknowledged that I'd even make it to college.

There was no one to advise me which place would be best suited to what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it, whereas by the time Linda got to that same point and was thinking of applying to Cal State Fullerton, I said, "What are you talking about? You can go to Cal Berkeley, you can go to Brown University, you can go to Harvard." She said, "But I'm not smart enough to get into those colleges," to which I rolled my eyes and responded, "You're smart enough to get into all of those colleges! It's just a matter of what you want to study." I asked her what she liked about school, and after that, I gave her a list of about ten different schools to which she should apply.


Although Dad wanted his girls to go to college, he also wanted us to go to Cal State Fullerton down the street - which he described as "one of the best universities in the country" - so that we'd still be living at home, where he could keep an eye on us. It didn't matter where the boys went. That's why, when I eventually decided to go to a college in San Francisco, we didn't even tell my father. Mom and I supposedly went "on vacation" to visit some relatives up north, but what we really did was drive up to Berkeley to find me an apartment. Then, two days before classes were due to begin, as I packed everything into my little car, Dad asked, "Where are you going?" I said, "I'm going to college." When he learned it was Berkeley he was not happy, but it was too late. I'd already enrolled and paid my tuition, so there was no way I could back out. Mom, Loretta, and I had conspired to do this, and we all got an earful, but what could he do? I was going to one of the best schools in California, and since my father's extremely thrifty with a dollar he'd never waste the money by saying I couldn't go there.


I wanted Linda, and the rest of my brothers and sisters, to not have to reinvent the wheel. I'd walked around blindly, trying to figure out many of those things, and I didn't want them to have the same experience. In my case, when Dad initially told me to go to USC like my older brother Henry, I took a look and didn't believe it fit me well. When I got home I told Dad and he said, "That's okay, Loretta. There's this great little community college that I pass every single day on the way home. Its name is Chapman, and it looks so nice, I think you should check it out." So, I did go and check it out, and I immediately discovered it wasn't a community college, it was a private four-year university. That meant instead of costing $5 per unit, as Dad thought it would, the annual fee was $8,000. That was a lot of money in 1978, and didn't exactly fit the plan to work and pay for it all by myself.

When I arrived home, I told Dad, "I really, really like that school. I think it's a good fit for me and I want to go there ... Oh, and by the way, it's not a community college, and it costs eight thousand dollars a year." He about choked. Still, I did end up going there. I received a federal Pell grant, a state grant, and a private scholarship from a family, the Pralles, that helped kids attend college, and so it cost my parents nothing. Some people go to Harvard or Stanford or Cal Berkeley because their parents have already gone there, other relatives have already gone there, and family money has resulted in their names being given to some of the halls. We didn't have that kind of background, so we had to make it on our own, usually with the help of families we didn't know but who understood how important education was for everyone.

It was much the same with politics. I went through the experience of running for Congress first, although politics is much more in Linda's blood than it is in mine. However, it obviously helped that, by the time she decided to run for Congress, I was already there and I already knew the ropes. In fact, when she said, "I want to do this," one of the deciding factors was that I had developed an infrastructure - what I call the good ol' girl network - that she could use to set up her campaign and win.


I remember the day I called Loretta and said, "Are you sitting down?" "What's up?" she asked, to which I replied, "The new congressional seat that's just been created in my area - I want to run for it." There was this pregnant pause at the other end of the line. Then she said, "Well, I don't know, Linda. What's your strategy for winning? How are you going to raise the money? There's that assemblywoman who represents a large portion of the district." As she herself has since decribed it, it was like having your best friend hire your child - you want your kid to understand there'll be no easy treatment just because of the friendship.

Loretta was basically saying, "Do you realize what this involves?" and my response was "Look, you travel all over the United States, and you campaign for candidates who, in some cases, you've barely met. You're always talking about how we need more qualified women in office, and how we need more Latinos in office to reflect this country's diversity, and you know my background. You know I'm qualified, with all my legal training and experience working for the labor movement."

She said, "Okay, well, let me think about it." Then, the next day, she called and said, "You know what, Linda, you're right. I'm going to help you." Which she did, of course. She continued to help even after I'd entered the House, assisting in my effort to secure a slot on the Judiciary Committee, making recommendations when I was setting up my office, and generally showing me the lay of the land. Then again, there were also times when my big sister still brought along her soapbox ...

One time, I was sitting on the floor of the House, and between votes I was talking trade with a couple of male colleagues when Loretta came up, stood right in front of me, and said, "Linda, have you had your flu shot yet?" I was in midsentence, talking to these guys, so I signaled no, only for her to then wag her finger at me and say, "Today's the last day that the House physician is giving the flu shot, and you have a tendency to get sick when you're flying back and forth. You'd better get your shot right away!" There I was, discussing a serious issue with my colleagues, and I felt like a kid being told to put on clean underwear. But that's Loretta - part mother, part sister.


Hey, what's wrong with that? When we were growing up, our dad used whatever was going on to teach us very, very valuable lessons, and as a result the siblings would never discount things that could be learned from each other. We have always learned from each other and helped each other. So, as much as I look out for Linda, I also often go to her for advice. She, after all, is the real lawyer. I just watch Law & Order. And although I generally understand how things work from a legal standpoint, I still consult her when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of interpreting the law. That's her background, that's her training ... and I also go to her when she has better contacts to a House member that I need to reach out to. We're not competitive with one another or with any of our siblings. On the contrary, I'm her biggest cheerleader, and she's mine.

That having been said, for Linda and me to share a home together in Washington, D.C., it would have to be one of those places that, in addition to a common area, has an east wing and a west wing, enabling us to reside as far apart as possible!


Because of all the years I was in law school, my favorite, most productive time is usually from about nine in the evening until one or two in the morning.


And that's my favorite, most productive time to sleep.


Loretta is one of those crazy, fanatical early morning people who gets up at five, which I think is unnatural. So, heaven help her if I were to get to bed at two in the morning and then hear her rattling around the house at five.


I've often thought we could share a single bedroom. I would use the bed while she's up, and as I'd be rolling out she'd be coming in.


Since Loretta's not a real late-night person, if I'm grabbing dinner with a colleague at 8:30 in the evening, that's about the same time she's ready to walk home, do some reading, and go to bed.


Dinner always sounds like a good idea at 8:15 when we're about to vote. But then, after the vote, when it's 8:45 and we're standing around, I'm like, "Man, I need to go home and sleep now."

Right after the vote my on switch turns to off. And that means while I'm chilling out at home, Linda's socializing, making friends, and talking to our colleagues.

I have a different set of friends, because they're the ones who get up at five in the morning to go for a run, before getting to the gym at 6:00 a.m. And you can also get a lot of business done at the gym in the morning with your colleagues, because again it's a different set of people. So, if Linda doesn't know somebody, I probably do, and vice versa. Between us, we know them all, and that's really good in Washington, where work takes place all the time. People there don't have another topic of conversation!


Well, that's not entirely true. I'm on the Democrats' baseball team, and when I'm with those guys we might talk ball for ten minutes.

Meet the Author

Congresswoman Loretta Sánchez has been a Democratic member of the United State House of Representatives since 1997. Previously a Republican, Sánchez changed parties in 1996, feeling that the Republican Party had lost touch with its constituency. She is the second-ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee and is a member of the Armed Services Committee. Loretta Sanchez is perhaps most known for her controversial 2007 withdrawal from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, alleging the caucus chairmen treated female members with disrespect. Their very public fight was covered thoroughly in the media, including being parodied on The Colbert Report.

Congresswoman Linda T. Sánchez has been a Democratic member of the United States House of Representative since 2003, when she joined her older sister Loretta, making them the only sisters to ever serve in Congress. She earned her BA in Spanish at the University of California in Berkley and her JD at UCLA, where she was an editor of the Chicano-Latino Law Review. She was an attorney specializing in labor law prior to her public service career. She is the chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, a member of the US House Committee on Education and Labor, and a member of the US House Committee on International Relations. In 2005 she was appointed Assistant Minority Whip. She is the Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Labor and Working Families Caucus. Stephen Colbert interviewed Sánchez for his series, "Better Know a District, on The Colbert Report in 2006. Sánchez delivered the Spanish version of the Democratic Radio Address on May 6, 2006 and in September 2006 Linda won the title "Funniest Celebrity in Washington."

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