“George I. Sanchez – The Long Fight for Mexican American Integration” by Carlos Kevin Blanton. (Yale University Press, $45)

Blanton will discuss and autograph copies of the book at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 21 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, 1701 Fourth SW, and at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 22, at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW.

By David Steinberg

Carlos Kevin Blanton can thank a student in his Introduction to Chicano Studies class for the impetus to write his biography of George I. Sanchez.

A freshman student at that.

This was at Portland State in Oregon, and Blanton was in his first job after getting his doctorate in history at Rice University.

“What happened was I was lecturing and I kept talking about George. My dissertation was on the same topic as my first book, (an academic book on bilingualism) so I knew all about George,” Blanton said in a phone interview.

At the end of one session in that first week of the class, Blanton apologized for spending excessive time discussing Sanchez and not bringing up other Mexican American civil rights leaders.

“A freshman asked me, if this guy is so important, and no one really knows about him, why don’t you write a book on him,” Blanton said in recalling the student’s suggestion. Why not, indeed.

And so a short time later, in 2002, he took a job at Texas A&M University, where he is still on the education faculty, and received funding to research a biography of Sanchez.

Soon after he began the research, Blanton realized that he didn’t know as much about the man as he thought he did. “He’s a much more complicated and important intellectual figure that I had originally realized,” he said.

Sanchez wasn’t just studying or talking about civil rights for Mexican Americans in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, but he was an activist, who was consciously shaping the work of other activist-scholars and policymakers behind the scenes.

“I hadn’t realized that he was a civil rights activist on a wide range of issues, for example, housing, prisons, immigration policy. … He investigated civil rights or human rights abuses, challenging illegal deportations…” Blanton said.

Thirteen years later – in January of this year – Yale University Press published Blanton’s biography of Sanchez. It is the first bio of Sanchez, who died in 1972.

Sanchez was born in 1906 in Albuquerque’s Los Nuanes barrio, was raised in Jerome, Ariz., and returned with his parents and siblings to Albuquerque’s Barelas barrio. He graduated from Albuquerque High School and the University of New Mexico.

In 1940, Sanchez wrote the ground-breaking “Forgotten People: A Study of New Mexicans.” In that book, Blanton said in his biography that Sanchez insisted that Mexican Americans “didn’t choose poverty and discrimination, rather they were forced upon them by a brutal, exploitative colonial past in which Spanish, Mexican and then American rule constantly championed” the wealthy over the poor, the powerful over the powerless.”

For several years in the 1940s, Sanchez was president of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Sanchez was a nationally recognized educator. During World War II, Sanchez worked briefly for Nelson Rockefeller in the federal Office of Inte-American Affairs. He also served as a confidante to Roger Baldwin, former director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Sanchez taught in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin where he also served as dean. The education college’s building is named for him.

The Albuquerque Public Schools is naming a new K-8 school for Sanchez. It is the George I. Sanchez Collaborative Community School, which is set to open in August.