LIFESTYLE

New Mexico school to be named after Latino educator George Sánchez, at last

A noted Mexican-American scholar and civil rights advocate whose name graces educational institutions in Texas and California but is virtually unknown in his hometown of Albuquerque is on track to receive the honor from a New Mexico school.

An Albuquerque Public Schools committee voted Wednesday to name a new kindergarten through eighth-grade school for George I. Sanchez, a key figure in the struggle to end segregation of black and Mexican-American students during the 1950s.

"I'm so excited that he's finally going to get to come back home," said Cindy Kennedy, 51, a Santa Fe teacher and a granddaughter of Sanchez, who died in 1972. "This has been a long time coming."

District officials said Sanchez's name beat out Albert Einstein and City View as the title for the new school on ballots sent to families living in the school's attendance area. The school will be located in the largely immigrant and Mexican-American southwest area of the city.

Born in Albuquerque in 1906, the son of an Arizona miner worked his way out of poverty as a rural public-school teacher in New Mexico to become one of the most influential Latino scholars and education activists in the nation. Sanchez developed his theories on school inequalities using New Mexico's Hispanic and Navajo populations as examples.

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He argued that bilingual students faced discrimination by school systems that used only English and testified in landmark court cases about the negative effects of segregation and IQ testing on Hispanic, American Indian and black children.

His 1940 classic "Forgotten People" was one of the first studies to document how Hispanics were losing land and influence to poverty and white encroachment.

The book drew attention from the University of Texas, which eventually offered Sanchez a job. There, he wrote other books, became a national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens and corresponded with Thurgood Marshall on desegregation strategy.

A dozen or so schools in Texas and California are named after Sanchez, but there are none in New Mexico, the state with the largest percentage of Hispanics in the nation and one that celebrates its Hispanic past.

He is not listed among the state's notable figures in New Mexico Centennial guidebooks.

After a 2012 Associated Press story on Sanchez and how he was an unknown figure in New Mexico, a group of current and retired educators began pushing for more recognition of Sanchez.

The New Mexico Association for Bilingual Education, for example, honored Sanchez in 2013 with an award recognizing a New Mexican who has made a significant contribution to bilingual education.

But the group failed to persuade the Santa Fe school board to name a new school after Sanchez.

The Albuquerque school is believed to the first named after Sanchez in New Mexico. The full Albuquerque school board next needs to approve the proposal in a vote that could come as early as next week.

Carlos Blanton, author of "George I. Sanchez: The Long Fight for Mexican American Integration" and a history professor at Texas A&M University, said naming a school after Sanchez will go a long way in securing his legacy in New Mexico.

"School names are enduring," Blanton said. "So it's really heartwarming that George I. Sanchez is going to be remembered in Albuquerque after all these years."

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