Ricardo Sanchez was born in Billings, Montana in 1947. His parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico and both eventually permanently settled in Montana. Sanchez’s father specifically relocated to Montana to work on the railroad. As the youngest of seven, Sanchez grew up in a predominantly white and segregated community but with supportive parents and neighbors.
After graduating from Eastern Montana College (now Montana State University Billings), Sanchez pursued a career with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). And in 1971, Sanchez relocated to Longview, Washington to work for the YMCA. Then, in 1974, he moved to Seattle to become the University District’s YMCA Director.
It was in Seattle that Sanchez began to embrace his Latino identity and also become socially and politically active. Initially, he began organizing a Seattle Chicano basketball league and started networking with leaders such as Roberto Maestas. In 1981, Sanchez was hired as the Director for El Concilio for the Spanish Speaking of King County. El Concilio was a coalition of Latino organizations and during Sanchez’s tenure played a critical role to enhance the employment opportunities of Latinos, organized fiestas patrias celebrations, and published La Voz, a community newspaper.
In 1998, Sanchez began to meet with individuals who were interested in addressing the Latino achievement gap in Washington State. From these gatherings, Sanchez founded the Latino/a Education Achievement Project (LEAP). An educational priority LEAP advocated for was to make a college education accessible and affordable to all, including undocumented students. In 2003, Sanchez and LEAP played a vital role to pass House Bill 1079 (HB 1079), legislation which enable undocumented student to pay in-state tuition. And in 2014, LEAP once again was instrumental in passing the Real Hope Act that allows undocumented students to receive state-funded financial aid.
Ricardo Sanchez was interviewed by Josue Q. Estrada at the University of Washington on July 17, 2014.