Ana Sandoval’s parents never imagined they’d live in the United States permanently. They had a business and home in Mexico, and came to San Antonio on green cards to help with a family construction business. Sandoval’s mother knew no English; her parents waited many years to apply for citizenship.
Sandoval, a 1-year-old when they arrived in 1976, would grow up feeling like a visitor. Nearly all the Hispanics in her neighborhood were second, third, or fourth generation. The Spanish “had been beaten out of them,” she says. Sandoval acted as her mother’s interpreter.
“Just in terms of social isolation, or feeling different, that really highlighted it for me,” she says. “Before I went to school, I thought everyone had a language they spoke at home and one they spoke out in public.”
Sandoval graduated valedictorian of her class, got her U.S. citizenship, got a degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and, “in a twist of fate,” won a Fulbright scholarship to Mexico. It was there, a place she had visited and thought “would be like coming home,” that, to her great surprise, she felt like a real outsider. “It was a very difficult time,” she says. “That’s when I realized I was an American in many, many ways… and that it doesn’t matter that I wasn’t born in the U.S. and that English wasn’t my first language.”
Sandoval racked up more expertise — master’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering and in public health from Stanford and Harvard universities, respectively, and public service jobs in San Antonio and San Francisco — before completing the circle to serve her home community. As the councilwoman for District 7, where she represents 170,000 San Antonians, Sandoval has secured record funding for streets and sidewalks and spearheaded efforts to make neighborhoods safer and improve public participation.
“I didn’t come to office with a platform for immigrants,” she says. “But I think I am an example of what an immigrant can be if the opportunities are there. I shouldn’t be the exception. This should be available to everyone, what I’ve been able to do.”