Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Bringing the Voices of the People to the People

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Bringing the Voices of the People to the People

Article excerpt

Claudio Sanchez, who grew up in two cultures, understands from personal experience the travails of decent but poor people. He spends his working hours searching for stories that illustrate those travails - and he sometimes finds the voice of a child or teacher that shows the way out.

Claudio Sanchez is the education correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR), the nonprofit network of 540 member stations that 17.1 million Americans listen to each week. Since February 1989 Sanchez has covered educational stories for NPR that touch on federal and local policies, breaking news and features, and reform issues in elementary, secondary, and higher education. While Sanchez covers a range of stories about young people and education, much of his work focuses on the plight of poor families, underprivileged students, and Latino culture. Sanchez is the product of a Mexican American family of very limited means who made the transition to American culture with considerable success.

Born in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico in 1954, Sanchez grew up in a rich cultural mix of Mexican and American influences. Nogales, Sonora, is directly across the border from Nogales, Arizona, and in the Fifties and Sixties it was "easy to cross back and forth. I grew up with 'Dennis the Menace' and 'Leave it to Beaver' on our television set." While Claudio was still in early elementary school, his parents divorced, and his mother and older brother became the primary influences on him. Claudio's father had legally moved the family to the United States before the divorce, but his mother and her four children, three boys and a girl, had never actually moved. After completing elementary school in Mexico, Sanchez did move to Nogales, Arizona, with his mother and siblings, and there he attended and graduated from the local high school.

Young Claudio benefited from the dual influences of trips back to Mexico and life in the U.S. His aunts and other relatives - but especially his older brother, who was then attending the National University of Mexico - acquainted him with Latino life and the possibilities for a future in Mexico. At the same time Claudio experienced American values and saw the possibilities of life in the U.S.

School was a central part of Claudio's life. "Education was never in doubt. I did well; I read a lot because of my mother, and I didn't find the transition to an American school difficult" - in large part, he recalls, because he was completely bilingual. His father had moved to California and was not a strong influence, which was one of the main masons for his mother's move to the U.S., a country where a single woman could raise a family without being "talked about by women in dark shawls as they walked to and from Mass." It was his mother's hard work and profound belief in education that sustained the three children at home as well as the example of his brother, who, by the time Claudio began high school, had graduated from the National University of Mexico and was doing well in business in his homeland.

When it came time to choose a college, Claudio was pulled toward Mexico by his brother and toward the U.S. by his school counselors. Eventually he opted to go to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. "I liked Northern Arizona University because it was so small. The National University of Mexico had over 100,000 students. I thought, the smaller the college, the better my chances for doing well." With the sponsorship of an influential teacher at Northern Arizona, Guy Bensusan, Sanchez and some other students put together a radio program to create a local Spanish voice. It was Claudio's first experience with the medium. This was more a cultural adventure than a career pursuit for Sanchez, who was a print journalism major. "I left school convinced that my future was print. I thought radio was fun, but I really didn't understand that you could do terrific journalism in radio. Serious journalism had to be print."

After college, Sanchez considered entering business with his brother, and he tried a number of things ranging from teaching to radio reporting. …

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