From the National Latino Policy Institute
Yolanda Sánchez, 1932-2012
Note: Word of yesterday’s passing of Yolanda Sánchez circulated widely in the Puerto Rican community, the day after the celebration of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. Yolanda’s passing resonated deeply to the many who knew her, not only because of the force of nature she was but also because it represented the passing of a generation of Puerto Rican activists who literally changed the world. She also represented the best of that cradle of the Puerto Rican community, El Barrio (East Harlem) in New York’s Manhattan. When I was a high school student back in 1968, I remember Yolanda speaking to us at an Aspira of New York event, where she told us young boricuas that we would be the leaders of tomorrow. I never forgot that because it was the first time I heard one of our community’s leaders invest me with such an important responsibility. I never forgot that and will never forget this proud and kind Black Puerto Rican woman.
—Angelo Falcón (June 12, 2012)
For the first Trailblazer ward, we recognize today the extraordinary achievements of Yolanda Sanchez, a woman of almost mythic standing . . . I am pleased . . . to recognize and honor Yolanda Sanchez, social worker, organizer — one of the true founding mothers in the social work community. —Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College (2012)
Yolanda Sanchez left footprints, time for the young to review and learn from them; your dedication will move the face of el barrio forward. Yolanda completed her assignment. Now it’s your turn . . . our turn . . . we must continue to pass the torch, keep the light going and make Yolanda proud. —Alberto O. Cappas
Yolanda Sánchez passed away on June 11, 2012 at Metropolitan Hospital. A Celebration of Yolanda’s life will be held on Wednesday, June 20th at 6pm at the Casabe Houses Community Room, 150 East 121 Street (at Lexington Avenue) in her beloved El Barrio in Manhattan.
Yolanda, a lifelong resident of and community activist since the 1960s in Manhattan’s El Barrio, was an author, educator, social worker, community organizer and administrator. She was, most recently, the program coordinator for the CACHE Cultural Arts Program hosted by Casabe Houses and was president/founder of the National Latinas Caucus.
She has been head of a number of agencies, including the Puerto Rican Association for Community Affairs (PRACA), the Boriken Health Center, and director of Puerto Rican Program Development at the City College. She was the founder of the East Harlem Council for Human Services, the Puerto Rican Inter-Agency Council and the NYC Chapter of the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women, and also organized and served as first chair of El BAC (El Barrio Action Coalition). She also helped create such institutions as Taino Towers, Casabe Houses and ¡Muevete!
She was a graduate of City College of New York (CUNY) and had a Master’s Degree from Columbia University in Social Work with a Specialization on Community Organizing.
In the 1984 book. Portraits of the Puerto Rican Experience, featuring portrait photographs by Adál Alberto Maldonado and edited by Louis Reyes Rivera and Julio Rodriguez, this is what they wrote about Yolanda:
“We can trust Yolanda Sanchez to know us. And we know ourselves better when we know her. The story begins in a typical way She was born in New York City’s Harlem Hospital in June, 1932. In those days, it was the hospital used by the residents of .El Barrio. Her father, a tool and die maker, arrived in the United States in the early 1920s. There were six children and hard times. Her father eventually left when Yolanda was 11 years old, and the family subsequently joined the welfare rolls, and moved to the South Bronx, back then a sign of “upward mobility” for this closely knit extended family.
The young Sanchez went through the public school system wherein she learned enough about the value of education to continue, and in 1954, she graduated from City College.
Like so many of her generation, upon graduation she went to work as a caseworker for the Bureau oJ Child Welfare. Sanchez saw this as poetic justice, since she had been on welfare until she went to college. During her eight years at BCW she was introduced by a colleague to a group of Puerto Ricans who were coming together to discuss “esa cosa puertorriqueña.” What did it mean to be Puerto Rican, and what did that community require?
Out of these discussions ASPIRA was formed to funnel potential leaders into the New York Puerto Rican community. Sanchez became ASPIRA’s first social worker in 1962, which responsibilities included taking teenagers to Puerto Rico, the homeland Sanchez had never seen. And so in the search of her mother’s land, she discovered another part of herself. With the ’60s cries of “Black Power!” Sanchez uncovered her identity as both Puerto Rican and Black. Her rebellious spirit filled with rage defied the order of the stars for Putrto Rican women.
She left ASPIRA, earned her MSW from Columbia, and became the director of several community-based organizations, including the Bureau of Community Affairs and the State Division for Human Rights. In 1969, Sanchez received a National Urban Fellowship and joined New York City Bureau of the Budget. In 1971, she returned to City College as Director of Puerto Rican program development, serving as a bridge between academia and the growing influx of Puerto Rican students, helping them to navigate that strange world of college studies.
With over 28 years of progressive experience in people-caring organizations behind her, Ms. Sanchez has taught at numerous colleges and universities and has lectured at many seminars and conferences. The quiet little girl of childhood has become an astute and moving community spokesperson. She has sat on various boards, including the New York Urban Coalition, the Puerto Rican Association for Community Affairs, and the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women, which latter two she co-Jounded.f
Despite her accomplishments, Sanchez continues searching and battling for pieces of herself. Committed to the rights of Puerto Rican women, and identifying sexism as a major deterrent to their progress, Sanchez is currently working to set up an association to further organize and mobilize Puerto Rican women.
Yolanda Sanchez has come full circle, a Puerto Rican Black Woman whose dance continues.”
Late last year, Yolanda wrote the following Guest Commentary for The NiLP Network on Latino Issues:
Holding Foundations Accountable to the Latino Community
By Yolanda Sanchez (December 27, 2011)
There is a problem that we have been discussing for many years.
Foundations control over $6 billion, of which only 1 percent reaches the Latino community as direct grants to Latino-created agencies controlled by Latinos. A group of Latino community advocates met last month in Manhattan’s El Barrio to dsicuss this issue and develop a strategy and tactics to correct this problem. This group included Judith Escalona of PRDream.com, Erika Estades of the East Harlem Council for Human Services, Marta Garcia of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Cecilia Gaston of the Violence Intervention Program (VIP), Cynthia Jones of Marga, Inc. and myself.
We defined the issue this way: foundations may hold and control those billions of dollars, but it is our money, held in trust by the foundations.
Foundations exist on the basis of federal tax laws. As such, we feel they are subject to federal guidelines that mandate equal protection and access to all. In light of past and current funding patterns, foundations exercise a lot of discretion, apparently based on institutional racism or personnel/personal bias that determines who they give funds to.
Can we exert enough pressure to change things? Can we develop strategies to assure that these foundations give Latinos and other ethnic and racial communities and women a fair shot at these funds?
To begin with, we agreed that:
1. Everyone, no matter where you live, should contact your local state legislators and ask them to sponsor and introduce legislation to require monitoring of foundations by state government to end the bias, by looking into their operations/staffing and patterns of grant distribution..
2. Everyone should contact your federal representatives and ask them to do the same. We have, for example, sent letters about this issue to our New York Senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and, although they have in the past acknowledges the problem, they have yet to respond to us.
3. Contact the Hispanic, Black, Asian and women Congressional caucuses, asking each to look into this matter and call for public hearings.
We defined this problem as a civil rights issue and, therefore, we should be able to register a formal complaint at the federal level (and maybe at the state level). Here in New York, we plan to call a meeting with our local state legislators to ask them to introduce legislation for state monitoring of New York-based foundations.
Imagine the reaction of our elected officials if they start receiving tons of letters from us on this issue?
It is possible. We can do it. Do it!