Oral Histories

Interview of Sandra Sewell

Activist for labor, children, and women’s rights. Executive director of Centro de Niños, a bicultural, bilingual children’s center.
Women's Activist Lives
Latina and Latino History
Social Movements
Women's Issues
Biographical Note:
Activist for labor, children, and women’s rights. Executive director of Centro de Niños, a bicultural, bilingual children’s center.
Hunt, Jackie
Sewell, Sandra
Persons Present:
Sewell and Hunt.
Place Conducted:
Sewell’s daughter’s home in Pasadena, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Jackie Hunt; B.A., Anthropology and Women Studies, Pennsylvania State University; M.A., Public Policy, UCLA; graduate student researcher at the Center for the Study of Women. Hunt prepared for the interview by reviewing major media sources that had articles quoting Sandra Serrano Sewell and by reviewing archival materials from Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional, Inc. maintained by the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Sewell was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
4.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
Women’s Activist Lives in Los Angeles is a series of interviews done by graduate research assistants under the auspices of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women. The series addresses the diverse ways in which women’s social movement activities affected public policy and transformed civic institutions such as education, social services, and the art world in Los Angeles. Several of the oral histories also focus on individuals who were involved with the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives, which the Center for the Study of Women was involved in bringing to UCLA Library Special Collections at the time the oral histories were being done.
Sandra Sewell’s childhood in Lorain, Ohio—Middle class, “Suzy Homemaker” life in a steel town in northern Ohio—Relationships with parents and grandparents—Grandmother’s boarding house for steel workers—Grandfather flees religious persecution in Mexico—Grandparents’ religious devotion to Catholicism and parents’ attitudes—Parents’ involvement in the Progressive Party, liberal politics, and Communism—McCarthy era investigations in Lorain by the FBI—Post-Depression exodus of Mexican-American families from the U.S.—Ford Motor Company recruitment in Puerto Rico increases Spanish-speaking Catholics in Lorain—Common economic experiences across race and ethnicity due to affiliation with the steel mill—Neighborhoods and proximity to the steel mill—Understanding of unions and organized labor—Encountering class and race differences in high school—Academic tracking of students in high school—Socializing with multiple groups of friends—Expectations and goals for the future—Learning about business through Junior Achievement activities—Standing up to a teacher regarding a report about the Vietnam War—Family dynamics and Sewell’s role as the eldest child—Family activities—Truancy during senior year in high school—Family expectations and siblings’ lives and relationships—Community college courses for medical assisting—Leaving Ohio on a bus bound for Southern California—First jobs in California—Social differences between life in Ohio and California—Meeting husband—Attending a Janis Joplin concert—Unexpected pregnancy—Cold feet, the wedding, and early married life.
Childhood trip to Washington, D.C.—Working Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign in Pasadena—Sewell’s perception that the local campaign ignored Mexican American voters and non-college youth—Organizing a non-student group for young Kennedy supporters—Kennedy rally at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena—Receiving Kennedy’s written speech and notes—Being at the Ambassador Hotel the night Robert Kennedy was assassinated—LAPD questioning, polygraph testing, and Sewell’s recanting of statements—Reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy’s assassinations—Attending a National Organization for Women meeting—Attending the founding meeting of Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional in Santa Barbara—Mentorship from Francisca Flores and Gracia Molina de Pick—Starting new Los Angeles-area chapters of Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional—Becoming president of Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional—Goals as Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional president and national Chicano issues—Taking a stand on a woman’s right to choose and gay rights in Comisión—Gaining recognition from white women’s groups—Madrigal v Quilligan anti-sterilization class action lawsuit—Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional as a change maker in Latina politics—1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas— Grace Montañez Davis and Maxine Waters as co-chairs of the California delegation to the National Women’s Conference—Fighting for minority women’s groups to write their own platforms at the National Women’s Conference—Attending the 1978 Equal Rights March in Washington, D.C.—Training and organizing women to lobby representatives in Washington, D.C.
Balancing activism and family—Sewell’s memories of involving her children in activist work—Service on the Pasadena Commission on the Status of Women, racially skewed politics—Protocol related to service on commissions—Controversial reallocation of funds for children’s services—Expectation of loyalty among Latino commissioners—Stereotypes about women’s issues associated with race—County attempts at blocking the investigation of mistreatment at MacLaren Hall facility for children—Working with whistleblowers at the Department of Children’s Services—Contrast between commissions’ intention and performance—Centro de Niños founding in 1972 by Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional—Early operational trouble for Centro de Niños—Taking over as director of Centro de Niños without formal training or experience—Learning how to run Centro de Niños—Providing opportunities to allow parents of children at Centro de Niños to empower themselves—Parent advocates for Belmont High School environmental remediation—Providing information to Centro de Niños families—Facilitating computer purchases for Centro de Niños families—Raising the obesity issue with Latino families with Dr. Alicia Lifshitz—Yoga instruction for Centro de Niños children and parents—Finding the right child development curriculum and staff for Centro de Niños—Objection from the state over Centro de Niños paying parent consultants along with educational consultants—Centralized county waiting list for Centro de Niños and other childcare centers—What draws families and children to Centro de Niños—Distribution of Centro de Niños curriculum to other centers—Devastating budget cuts and community fundraising for Centro de Niños—Thoughts on future budget difficulties— Centro de Niños as a formalized way to create community change—Success stories among Centro de Niños children and staff—Sewell’s self-reflection on her work—Sewell’s advice for advocates and change makers—Reflection on work from Sewell’s union background—Goals for Centro de Niños clients—Sewell’s plans for retirement.