Rita Sanchez has been a pioneer of Chicana empowerment since the 1960s. She taught the first Chicana course at Stanford University as a graduate student and produced a Journal of Chicana Women’s Writings published that same year. In 1974, Rita was the first woman to be hired as a full-time tenured faculty in the Mexican American Department at San Diego State University (SDSU) and in 1990 at San Diego Mesa College (Mesa).
One of eleven children, Rita was one of three siblings to go away to school. She received a bachelor’s degree in English from Stanford University. While raising her two daughters, Rita received two Masters of Arts degrees in English and in Education from Stanford. At Stanford, she got involved in the Chicano movement and became the first woman to win the Stanford Chicano Fellowship. By 1976 she was working almost full time in two areas: as a professor at SDSU and as a Ph.D Candidate on a Ford Foundation Fellowship at the University of California, San Diego. In 1980, halfway through her doctoral dissertation, she gave birth to her fourth child, a son.
At SDSU, Rita pioneered the first Chicana journal – Visiones de la Mujer. She also hosted presentations and receptions for various important figures in Chicano Studies like Dolores Huerta and Gracia Molina de Pick. Following her nearly ten years at SDSU, she founded one of the first Chicano/Latino art galleries with Mario Acevedo. Acevedo Gallery in Mission Hills became a location where Latin American and Chicano artists could showcase their work.
Professor Sanchez has published several articles and one book since 1973 and is working on Love Stories of the Southwest, with her husband, noted historian, Richard Griswold del Castillo. Recently she has been recognized in Chicano Studies; the Genesis of a Discipline, a book by Professor Michael Soldatenko. He acknowledges her work as a predecessor to 1980’s women’s activism. The Chicana studies courses she created and her 1973 article “Chicana Writer: Breaking Out of Silence,” placed writing center stage as a means of challenging male-centered knowledge as the accepted practice.
Over the years her work has given and continues to give a voice to many young women, especially Chicana students. It has given life to women’s experience and heritage through research, documentation, and publishing. Professor Emeritus in English and Chicano Studies at Mesa College, Rita Sanchez, has been a strong advocate for the curriculum to address race, class, gender and inclusivity of women. She continues her work on ancestral history and is still involved in the advancement of women’s rights. Rita believes that her greatest work of activism has been the privilege to reach and promote women through the written word.