This is an important book: the long-awaited biography of George I. Sánchez (1906–1972), the most important Mexican American intellectual of the civil rights generation. And Carlos Kevin Blanton is the historian for the job, for Sánchez figured in his fine study The Strange Career of Bilingual Education in Texas, 1836–1981(Texas A&M University Press, 2004), and Blanton has skillfully mined the multitudinous Sánchez sources, including such seemingly arcane repositories as the Rockefeller Archives.
The author demonstrates that Sánchez’s impatience with injustice drew on such factors as his forebears having long predated the Anglos in New Mexico and his father having been a labor activist in the Arizona mines. [End Page 230] This young Mexican American’s prodigious work habits helped him beat the odds, earning an M.A. at the University of Texas and a Ph.D. at University of California, Berkeley. He soon was obtaining grants for cuttingedge research, even if one research project he supported cost Sánchez his teaching position at the University of New Mexico.
“George I. Sánchez was a New Deal man” (26), states the author in one of the book’s many deft presentations of Sánchez’s dedication to scholarship on behalf of social change, with all the advantages and pitfalls that this implies. Sánchez published and encouraged many studies that helped overturn the “separate but equal” shibboleth, particularly in education from his base at the University of Texas, even if his vision of sustained cooperation between activists in the Southwest and in the Deep South never materialized. He also was the driving force behind the visionary but short-lived American Council of Spanish Speaking People, the first organization to encompass all the major Mexican American civil rights groups across the Southwest. The biographer does note, however, that as an educationalist, Sánchez could be overly optimistic about information as an agent of change.
Blanton treats perceptively Sánchez’s sometimes-troubled private life and gives a fair reading of his personal flaws, from his temper to a drinking problem that eventually grew to life-threatening proportions. A bit of context would have helped regarding the “man’s world” drinking culture so common at that time. In another drawback, the author’s astute historical analysis gets interrupted periodically by sections of historiographical material (these asides are not essential, as the book’s findings address most of those issues.)
In the Texas Democratic Party feuds of the 1950s, Sánchez took the liberal side, even at the cost of professional advancement. From today’s perspective, the one tricky issue is the immigration restriction stance of those liberals, something Blanton explains without excusing. He also shows that Sánchez embraced the United Farm Workers, even as he and the rising Chicano/a generation regarded each other with wary respect. Today the University of Texas education building bears Sánchez’s name. What really matters, though, as this definitive account makes clear, is that his words and deeds contributed mightily to the civil rights advances of Mexican Americans. [End Page 231]