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'Children of Sanchez' Patriarch Santos Hernandez Dies

January 17, 1987|From Times Wire Services

MEXICO CITY — Santos Hernandez, patriarch of the family described in the best-selling "The Children of Sanchez," a significant account of poverty as a culture unto itself, died when he was struck by a car while on his way to work, the newspaper Excelsior said Jan. 7. He was thought to be almost 90.

Anthropologist Oscar Lewis had sought to disguise the identify of the family he lived with and tape recorded in the late 1950s and called Hernandez "Jesus Sanchez" in his study of Mexico's urban poor. Lewis' book, a first-person account of the lives of four of Hernandez's children, was published in 1961 and is widely used as a text in both U.S. and Mexican universities. The book, considered an anthropological classic, was translated into several languages and sparked a sequel in 1970, "A Death in the Sanchez Family."

The newspaper said a neighbor had found Hernandez's body at dawn Jan. 5 on a dusty street in the Iztapalapa sector of southeastern Mexico City where he lived with his second wife and nine of his younger children, Excelsior said.

He had left for his job at the Cafe Tacuba downtown, where he worked when Lewis was researching the book.

A Robust Man

"He was always very kind, despite his rough appearance," Excelsior quoted a woman identified only as Rita, who works in a store in the neighborhood, as saying of Hernandez, a short, robust man.

The tenement Casa Blanca--in the book called Casa Grande--that was the scene of Lewis' book and where one of Hernandez's children still lived, was torn down in August. A new one is to be built in its place as part of a government-sponsored reconstruction program.

When "The Children of Sanchez" was translated into Spanish and published in Mexico in 1965, it split the country in two with many condemning it as obscene while others hailed it as a poignant example of poverty in their Third World nation.

During the debate a Mexican newspaper succeeded in identifying the Sanchez clan as being Santos Hernandez's family, although Lewis went to his grave in 1970 without confirming it.

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