This is what you need to know about Luis Sanchez:
1. He's a new father.
2. He's a UC Berkeley graduate.
3. He founded the East LA pro-education activist group Inner City Struggle.
4. He's not against being called a candidate of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's political machine.
Sanchez, 36, is running for L.A. Unified's District 5 seat on the board of education. It's boundaries salamander from Los Feliz and Eagle Rock in the north to East L.A. and Huntington Park in the south.
Before he got a job as a staffer with current L.A. Unified board president Monica Garcia he ran a non-profit that advocated for better schools in L.A.'s eastside. Marches and protests punctuated the group's demands at the school board. All while using the work of UCLA education researchers to back up their proposals with theory.
He's a supporter of charter schools and other non-traditional school models to improve learning. He agrees with incoming Superintendent John Deasy that teachers who don't cut it should be out of the educational system.
What machine is helping elect him? The Antonio Villaraigosa, Eli Broad, and Service Employees International Union machine(s). The teachers union machine is trying to stop his election. United Teachers Los Angeles in portraying Sanchez in election mailers as the puppet of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Sanchez and the race's three other candidates shared their political platforms forum in a near empty South Gate's city hall chambers a few weeks ago. Sanchez came off as the most knowledgeable, next to PTA leader Scott Folsom, about the structure of L.A. Unified's bureaucracy and what policies he'd push through that bureaucracy to improve education.
I talked to him after forum and the next day at his campaign office in East L.A. about why he's running and about ethnicity as a shaping factor in his life.
On this election day I'm not anointing a winner, but with nearly a million dollars in money spent by groups not aligned with his campaign, and having outraised opponent Bennett Kayser nearly ten times over, Sanchez has a great advantage in getting his message out to voters. So in the interest of shedding light on his thinking, I've edited the transcript of the conversations.
Why are you running?
For me it's a very simple proposition this election. It's either about moving forward around the major reforms we've been doing, making sure that every kid has a quality school, making sure more parents are involved with schools, making sure that at the end of the day what matters the most is kids are graduating, kids are reading at grade level and kids have opportunity upon graduation.
I come from a long history of educators. I started off as a high school teacher, my mom's been a 30 year-veteran at Montebello Unified, my sister's a principal.
Where did you teach?
Mostly in Pomona, long term substitute teaching and also taught in Upward Bound.
How many years did you substitute teach?
Off and on, two and a half, closer to one or two. Did Upward Bound teaching for a little bit more and then I did, then there's stuff that I don't officially talk about. I did about two years of actual teaching in Oakland Unified when we started a multicultural program at the school... ...my junior and senior year in college.
SEIU Local 99 will have business in front of the board and if you're elected board member you're going to have to decide on that, they've spent a lot of money to help elect you. Are you going to carry their water?
For me it's about making sure that this district equitably deals with all employees. We've had difficult decisions in front of the board as a chief of staff, and I've been Monica's chief of staff for the last four years and SEIU really pushed for Monica to be elected as well. And so for me it's about making sure that you treat everyone equitably. UTLA is not supporting me but that doesn't mean I'm not going to work with teachers.
I'm not just one person's candidate, I'm the candidate of everyone from building trades to the chamber, who brings that kind of coalition together?
But quite a few of those are within a certain camp, in the sense of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Chamber of Commerce working closely together, Eli Broad works closely with the mayor and this group that's working to elect you includes the mayor's allies. It seems that this machine really wants you on the board.
Because I feel that I'm the most qualified candidate. At the end of the day I feel that I've done the work to garnish support from everyone. And most people will tell you to this point, am I a 100% charter person? Of course not. Am I a 100% reform person? Yes I am. And I'm going to choose what's best for our kids moving forward.
Did you grow up speaking Spanish?
Yes I did. Spanish was my first language. It's always relative, right? I think I speak really good Spanish but compared to my mom, she always says I'm too pocho. I'm actually the youngest of three. So while my brother and sister spoke Spanish their whole life, I spoke both. I got the least Spanish.
What path did your cultural identity take? Was it that you identified as Mexican American or rejecting it, not accepting it then coming around to it?
I think I grew up very proudly Americanized, initially. I played baseball my whole life. I loved baseball. I loved singing the National Anthem. I loved American history. I was in the fifth grade and my brother went to Harvard and so I remember the first year I visited him. My mom sent myself and my sister to go visit him. I remember walking the Freedom Trail, Samuel Adams grave, Bunker Hill, doing all this, throwing the tea over the boat at the harbor.
How do you identify?
Either Chicano or Latino.
What do those words mean to you?
For me initially Chicano meant, that was something that I came to when I was in my late high school years and college as I got exposed to history of struggle and everything from what happened with the Mendez family in Westminster, California to learning about the walkouts that happened here in East L.A., people had to fight for their rights to a quality education.