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These sisters' words could be law

Linda and Loretta Sanchez, rarities on Capitol Hill, reveal pivotal life moments in 'Dream in Color.'

August 29, 2008|Lynell George | Times Staff Writer

So much of politics is about who you know -- strategic alliances, swiftly forged intimacies. There are the family dynasties, to be sure, as well as a few husbands and wives who have done their share of heavy lifting in the name of public service. But rarer still in American politics are siblings working shoulder to shoulder.

That's why much fuss was made when U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez joined her sister, Loretta, on Capitol Hill in January 2003. Her swearing-in made history; the Sanchezes are not only the first sisters in Congress, but also Latinas, daughters of immigrant Mexican parents who set firm goals for their seven children.

Representing Garden Grove (Loretta) and Lakewood (Linda), the sisters, both Democrats, have led vivid, visible careers -- unseating long-time incumbents, contesting elections, simmering in controversy, fighting for immigrant rights, fending off critics, battling sexism -- all of it in front of the media's steady stare.

In "Dream in Color," their book that comes out Tuesday, the Sanchez sisters take it all on, from their tumultuous political journeys to the pressure and expectations of their Latino constituencies -- and at moments, even each other as they recall pivotal moments from their past. Part memoir, part how-to-succeed guide, the book is as colorful and outspoken as the sisters themselves.

"It was so much fun to write," said Loretta, via cellphone, while walking to an early-morning television interview this week at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. "We're almost like 'Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In' when we get together. I got my little digs in. She got hers. Some of the people who have seen early copies of it have said: 'Oh my God, did she say that?' But they don't understand our family."

Strong words and strong will are definitely central elements key to large-family survival. "With seven kids you're always negotiating," noted the 48-year-old Loretta. Over the years, as the family moved from El Monte to Anaheim, Loretta, the second eldest, came to be known as "The Warden" among the younger siblings since much of their care and discipline was doled out by her.

"She always had her soapbox," 39-year-old Linda, the sixth child, recalls early on in "Dream in Color," "and was preaching about eating the right food, doing chores, and taking care of ourselves to the point where sometimes I felt like I might as well be living in a convent."

The strictness, passed down from their parents, served its purpose. The idea was if the kids were busy with studies, chores and other family responsibilities, they couldn't get into trouble. Their parents, Maria Macias and Ignacio Sanchez, ultimately raised a family of high-achievers -- lawyer, businessmen, mortgage broker, civil engineer. It is that "strict immigrant work ethic," that Linda and Loretta fall back on.

Telling this story, about two focused, self-assured Latinas defying expectations, felt crucial at this moment, Loretta said. It was a way to place their own experiences against a contemporary backdrop that is also full of joys and contradictions -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton shattering the glass ceiling with her historic run for president joined, in real time, by a fervent backlash against illegal immigration. This is the world of clashing truths and sensibilities that the Sanchezes inhabit and battle through daily.

There was talk of doing a book a little while ago. "Actually we had a different book deal," Loretta explained Tuesday morning. "It was sort of a nuts-and-bolts 'how to win an election' for women, young people." People who have traditionally had trouble getting into politics and through the process. "We started with a ghost writer, but then he ran away. For good!"

"We didn't have a structure starting out," Linda said later the same day, moments after descending the podium after her convention speech. "But in recalling events, we realized that even though we grew up in the same family, we perceived things a little differently. So we decided to arrange it thematically."

Co-writer Richard Buskin, who has written several books about influential women -- Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana among them -- sat the sisters down and interviewed them, taping the conversations. "Sometimes the three of us would be in the same room. Other times I would write something up and then Richard would call and ask questions," Loretta said. "He was great because he knew how to organize us."

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