By Alberto Garcia
During the past 19 years, Congress Loretta Sanchez has blazed a trail through the halls of the US Capitol as a recognized expert on military and security issues.
First elected to Congress in 1996, Ms. Sanchez, a Democrat, defeated 6-term Congressman Bob Dornan, a conservative Republican. Dornan was accused in his previous campaign of posting signs in Spanish at polling places on Election Day warning voters they would be asked for citizenship papers by immigration officials before voting.
Congresswoman Sanchez sat down this week with La Prensa San Diego in Barrio Logan for an exclusive interview.
“Sometimes I’m the only woman in meetings but I’m nearly always the only Latina,” the Congresswoman noted.
The meetings she was referring to involve her work on the House Homeland Security Committee, usually with high-level military and intelligence officers.
She also serves on its Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities which oversees the Department of Defense counter proliferation and counter terrorism programs and initiatives including Special Operations Forces, defense science and technology policy and programs, information technology programs, cyber-operations, and strategic communications. Ms. Sanchez also is a ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.
These important committees are involved in shaping the policies and programs instrumental in protecting the United States from terrorist threats as well as overall military spending yet most of us didn’t know a Latina from Anaheim is a key player in these discussions.
Born in Lynwood and raised in Anaheim, Loretta Sanchez grew up speaking only Spanish and was in the first class of the federal Head Start program. Later earning an Economics degree from Chapman University and a Masters of Business Administration from American University, Ms. Sanchez pursued a career in finance, working with defense contractor Booz Allan Hamilton and Fieldman Rolapp.
Ms. Sanchez credits the Head Start program for changing her life. Head Start was launched in 1965 to help children in low-income communities. In addition to preschool classes, Head Start provided medical care, dental care, and mental health services.
But not only did the program help her, but Congresswoman Sanchez says it helped her mother and other parents get more involved in their kids’ lives while also improving their own lives. Ms. Sanchez’ mother, Maria Sanchez, went on to earn her GED, a Bachelors’ degree, and eventually her teaching credential. Mrs. Sanchez taught in Orange County public schools for 17 years.
Her personal experience with public education has made Congresswoman Sanchez a fierce supporter of funding for schools. During debate on the House floor to reform the Head Start program, Ms. Sanchez shared her background growing up poor and challenged with a speech impediment.
“I know about these kids, because I am one of those kids”, she explained to her Congressional colleagues. “It hurts to hear you talk about how we are not successful, or how we are losers. But we are very successful. We have had a lot of successes with Head Start,” she added.
Many years later, that little girl from Anaheim now discusses with military leaders the state of readiness of our armed forces, or gets briefed by intelligence officials on the latest terrorist threats to our country.
“Sometimes they all look and think alike in these meetings,” she told La Prensa San Diego, referring to career military and intelligence officials, “and I bring up a different view based on my own life experiences. I’m usually the only Latino or Latina in these meetings,” she added.
“I understand the security issues facing the US-Mexico border areas and want to help protect our Homeland Security but we have to deal with real immigration reform,” she added.
Congresswoman Sanchez has been a supporter of the Senate’s co-called “Gang of 8” immigration reform deal, stating at the time it passed the Senate in 2013 that the deal was “a monumental step and a sign that real progress can be made toward creating a path to citizenship. It’s high time to create a fair and viable path to legal status for the millions of undocumented immigrants in our country,” she added. The bill eventually stalled in the House when Republicans opposed a comprehensive approach in favor of a piecemeal set of bills that to this day have not materialized.
This year, Congresswoman Sanchez launched her campaign to replace retiring US Senator Barbara Boxer. In order to run for the Senate, she had to give up her ability to seek reelection to her congressional seat. Ms. Sanchez is facing California Attorney General Kamala Harris and State Assemblyman Rocky Chavez from Oceanside. If she were to win this election, Loretta Sanchez would become the first Latina ever in the United States Senate.
“I think she’s a great role model for us and shows that we can reach the highest levels of success no matter where we come from,” said Eduardo Lopez who heard the Congressman speak during her visit. “Our children can see that someone who looks like them and came from a similar background can really make it in this country,” he concluded.