Irene Sánchez, an ethnic studies teacher in the Azusa Unified School District, stands for a portrait in front of the Azusa Adult Education Center.

Irene Sánchez

The Ethnic Studies Teacher

Every week, Irene shuffles between three high school classrooms to teach her Latino Studies class. Most of her students are from Mexican families; there are a growing number of Central American kids, too. As the only ethnic studies teacher in the Azusa Unified School District, she always thinks back to the December 1968 student walkouts in this very same city that demanded a program of Mexican American Studies and more Mexican American teachers on staff, like herself. “I always trip out because I realize how it took 46 years for them to get this kind of class in here,” she says. One day, she hopes, there will be one teacher who teaches ethnic studies at every Azusa school. There is also hope for the State of California to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement of students of any cultural background. The awareness of those 1968 walkouts shaped Irene’s own cultural identity growing up, and it’s what guides her as a teacher and a poet today. “I have (my students) write a lot about themselves and about their home,” she says. “That way they can see they’re connected with all these other places and people around them.”