Dream in Color: How the Sánchez Sisters Are Making History in Congress. Congresswoman Linda Sánchez and Congresswoman Loretta Sánchez. NY: Grand Central Publishing. 2008.
A couple weeks ago, publisher Hachette offered to send a free copy of the Sánchez sisters' political autobiography to the first five La Bloga readers to request it. I was pleased that a number of requests came from gente with House of Representatives email addresses. In my fantasy I see a group of interns and clerks, acutely aware of the attainments of the only sisters to serve simultaneously in Congress, poring through the pages looking for personal routes to success.
Three avenues stand out in the sisterly give-and-take style of this eminently readable account: Stick to your principles. Ask for help. Work with anyone who can advance your cause. Taking alternating voices, Loretta in serif, Linda sans-serif, each takes her turn expressing how those ways and means make her effective.
One corollary emerges most clearly: Pull your punches, or, more kindly, don't burn your bridges.
Finally, one key element comes clearly to the forefront, one that no political hopeful can fashion for herself or himself: Be raised female in a strict, old-fashioned Mexicano household.
Most clearly, the family culture has enormous influence in who these two women have become. Spanish is the language of el hogar, English outside, bilingualism because it makes good sense. Be obedient. Fit in. Take caca from no one.
Loretta, the elder, comes in for a lot more strict crap from her parents than does little sister Linda. By the time Linda reaches young adulthood, the parents have acquired a lot of English and transitioned from puro Mexicano attitudes to a less restrictive California casual parenting style. Loretta, as the older female offspring, is in charge of her younger siblings. Loretta's discipline is so much an extension of her parents' that the chamacos calls their sister The Warden.
Pulling punches is just another phrase for being political. The hard-headed Sánchez parents, especially the Dad, must have been genuinely impossible to tolerate without a lot of resentment. Yet, both sisters express grateful affection for the parents' rules and examples, even while describing the father's intolerable domination of his wife, or the double standard for boy rules and girl rules. The mother gets a lot of credit for running interference for the kids, for being a role model who, rather than simply insist the kids do well in school, enrolls in night school to complete a GED then a Bachelor of Arts. When a parent's drive for their kids to succeed is matched by parental behavior to be successful, the kids have to be total losers not to become successful in life.
A reader will understand that children will be protective of their parents and siblings, but such protectiveness of crummy people makes little sense and disappoints readers looking for more than mere generalization. Who is the unnamed congressman who uses procedural sleight-of-hand to pull the rug out from an amendment? Pull the punch in event the jerk can help in a future issue. Read about "a teacher" who behaves in outrageously racist ways, but the teacher is never named. Likewise unnamed the counselor who disparages college because the girl will just find a man and get pregnant, but in later years brags how he always knew she'd become successful. Such villains deserve to read their names, be singled out, even though such racism has been the norm in California schooling.
On the other hand, the writers leap at opportunities to name praiseworthy individuals, a kind teacher, a Republican committee chair who lends a hand, or, surprisingly, Tom Tancredo coming in for sympathetic descriptions. I find it alarming that of all the pendejos the Sánchez' could name, expose, or defend, that Tancredo gets the kid gloves treatment. Anathema must mean something different in Orange County than the rest of the country. I'm surprised there is no begruding affection for B-1 Bob Dornan.
Some punches aren't pulled. Al Gore receives extended calumny for hypocrisy--though we never learn the names of Gore's factotums who do the actual dirty work. Loretta has organized a conventiontime fundraiser for getting out the Latino vote. At the Playboy Mansion. Gore's campaign has accepted fifteen hundred dollars from the coney snatchers, yet "they" object to Loretta's plans as being counter to Gore's campaign based upon family values. To Loretta, the tawdry movidas Gore pulls predicts his failure in the general election. Still, she gives in and holds a successful event elsewhere. In Loretta's view, the real reason for Gore's opposition grows from the funds going to someone other than Gore. No punches pulled there.
Any politician's autobiography will be an exercise in ethos-creation. Ethos, which Aristotle defines as that form of proof found in the character of a speaker, real or assumed, is the life's blood of political campaigning, so a reader is advised to approach this dual autobiography with an agenda, to discern the real from the assumed. Take, for instance, Linda's summary of her political heritage:
My job is to be a passionate advocate of those who are forgotten, those who are neglected, those who are ignored, those who others don't consider to have much value, maybe because they're "just" gardeners or waitresses.
Taken out of context of the whole book, that sounds remarkably self-serving and singularly image-building. Until one considers how Linda abjures a big bucks career in corporate law in favor of serving the forgotten as a labor organizer. Now the nature of this politician becomes more clearly perceived.
Of all the valuable lessons to learn from these women's careers, holding to one's principles puts them, especially Loretta, at their finest. Glossing on compromise and how she and Tancredo will debate immigration standing alongside one another without coming to blows, Loretta Sánchez makes a tellingly important point that she backs up with her legislative example:
Part of mastering the art of compromise is realizing the few times it is not an option, with big votes there can be no compromise. The war is the war, and if you're going to send kids to war, you must be 100 percent sure of your reasons.
Although she does not make this clear here, Loretta Sánchez is one of only a handful in Congress to vote in 2002 against the war powers act that allowed the administration to invade Iraq in 2003. When the elder Sánchez sister tells you about principles and standing firm for important beliefs, that vote separates the real from the assumed in any examination of Character. She can whisper sweet nothings into Tom Tancredo's ear, that vote will always explain who is Loretta Sánchez.
Linda, on the other hand, is less forthcoming and a lot mealy-mouthed:
When it comes to the war, many constituents are angry . . . ultimately, aren't interested in the interim steps . . . It's like attacking the waitress when the chef has screwed up your meal, or having a go at the attendant when a flight is delayed due to bad weather.
No, actually, it's not. It is war. And Congress has failed to end it.
Other than their pulled punches, my only other problem with the book is the authors' interchangeable use of "Hispanic" with Mexican, Latina Latino. Neither "chicana" nor "chicano" appear in the text--though I welcome a correction from a more attentive reader. Ethnic identity forms such an important element in their ongoing story,that I'd like to have seen some directness in talking about this. The writers note their blonde guera-ness led Anglo acquaintances to disparage Mexicans without recognizing a Sánchez girl as Mexican, and the mother telling one to marry an "American" because he would be a not-Mexican husband.
I'm sure the women did not grow up in Anaheim calling themselves "Hispanic." They probably alternated between Mexican, Mexican-American, or, in the 1947 language of Westminster v. Mendez, citizens of the United States of Mexican descent, or some such allusion to their Mexicritude. There is one code-switched sentence that I recall, and at least one mi'ja, so not all ethnicity has been kept out of the story.
Perhaps one day the sisters will pen a coming-of-age story that does address the missing ethnic link. Until that book comes along, readers will find Dream in Color an involving, interesting set of formative and career highlights of two remarkable politicians on their way up.
I hope those who've read the book already--especially recipients of the free copies--will share their views of the Sánchez sisters book. With election season hard upon us and candidates to the left of us, candidates to the right of us, campaigns filling the media with their own ethos-forming messages, the feet-on-the-ground honesty and practicality of these two Congresswomen offers solid points of reference to help separate the real from the assumed.
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