Angela Sanchez: Every Little Thing She Does is Magic

The graduate student, who is working on a master’s degree in Student Affairs, overcame homelessness during high school and did her undergrad thesis on female magicians.

As a member of The Magic Castle, an exclusive Hollywood club dedicated to the art of illusion, Angela Sanchez enjoys performances by top-flight magicians, acts as a docent for visitors to the historic venue, and occasionally gives lectures on topics such as women in magic. However, earning her undergraduate degree in history with a double minor in education and English from UCLA (Class of ’13) was anything but sleight-of-hand for Sanchez, who graduated from high school with a 4.23 GPA. Attaining that grade point average and gaining admittance into a world-class university while homeless during her last two years of high school, one would have to admit, was nothing short of magic.

Sanchez, who is now a student at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, lived with her father in a homeless shelter while completing her junior and senior year at Herbert Hoover High School in Glendale. Her experiences of studying long after lights-out curfew at the shelter, being tutored by a doctoral student from Cal Tech who became an important mentor, and her father’s commitment to his daughter’s education, regardless of their circumstances, inspired Sanchez  to establish a college chapter of the nonprofit School on Wheels, Inc. while an undergrad at UCLA. The group continues after her leadership, providing campus tours, tutoring and mentoring for homeless children and youth.

Sanchez, who is currently earning her master’s degree in Student Affairs at UCLA Ed & IS, is featured in the “Let There Be” video, which was created for UCLA’s Centennial Campaign. Ampersand had the opportunity to chat with her about what it’s like to maintain a level of normalcy as a high school student under challenging circumstances, the unsung heroines of the conjurer’s art, and how she intends to work magic for future students as a university administrator .

Ampersand: What got you interested in magic and how did this lead to your senior thesis?

Angela Sanchez: It was my Dad’s hobby when he was growing up, and then it was my hobby after that. I’m more of a historian, that’s how I auditioned for The Magic Castle, but you have to show that you’re a competent magician. I perform for friends, doing close-up stuff and coin tricks.

&: How did this lead to your senior thesis on the unsung women in magic history?

Sanchez: You still have this huge trope of the magician always being a male. You can tie the associations between women and magic to [witches] being burned at the stake, there’s a whole sordid history to that. The association to magic has been kind of tenuous. Men can be wizards, but women are witches, [for example, the evil witch in “Snow White.”]

In magic, women were considered merely the assistants. The cliché of a woman being sawn in half started in the 1920s after women’s suffrage [and] it caught on like wildfire in the U.S. It was terrifying for a patriarchal society in the early 20th Century United States to see women having suffrage, the right to vote, so it was a reaction on the stage that mimicked society or what society wanted to have happen.

Many magicians began to fight over the patents for sawing a woman in half, and bicker over who had the rights to show it. Horace Goldin was one famous magician who was known for dumping buckets of red fluid out in front of his theatres, saying they needed a new volunteer every night.

&: Who were some of the women to break the gender barrier in magic?

Sanchez: There have always been lots of women magicians; it’s just that they don’t typically reach the same prominence as their male counterparts. There was this really great trio in the late 19th Century called LeRoy, Talma, & Bosco. Talma was the wife of Servais LeRoy, and she was a perfectly competent magician all on her own. She had tiny hands and wore a size 5 1/2 glove, and was known for her dexterity with coin magic, which is a really difficult field to get into.

Then there was Adelaide Herrmann, whom I studied extensively for my research thesis. She was the wife of Alexander Herrmann, also known as Herrmann the Great. Magicians in those days had rock star status. His wife was his assistant. But when he died very suddenly of a heart attack, Adelaide had to pick up the show and keep going, to keep her husband’s name alive and also to pay off her husband’s huge amount of debt. She became renowned as the “Queen of Magic.” But nobody remembers Adelaide Herrmann in the same way that they remember Harry Houdini.

&: How did your dual passions of history and education influence your decision to earn a master’s degree in Student Affairs?

Sanchez: You know the old saying, “History is written by the winners”? That holds a lot of truth in many ways. History can be very one-sided; it’s not nearly as objective as many textbooks would have you believe. And the UCLA Education Department, with its variety of different classes that are blended with the social justice curriculum, helps you to really see that and break it down.

My classes on public policy in higher education, the undergraduate experience, and courses on race and law in education, really gave me a chance to see how education changes, how it has been shaped by history, and how have some people been denied education throughout the years. There is a historical context that continues to influence our educational system. I wanted to pursue my graduate studies here at UCLA specifically because of that social justice outlook… toward improving the current situation and how to make it accessible for other [students] besides those who already have a leg up on their access.

&: How did your personal experiences affect your career goal of helping students?

Sanchez: Education has always been of great value, because I’ve had instances where education was restricted from me, or it was more difficult to complete my education.

For the last two years of high school, my father and I were homeless. When my parents divorced, there was a lot of financial upset that took a toll on my dad and our financial situation. It also took him out of the work environment. During this time, the industry in the field of architecture had changed critically. My dad had lost his competitive edge in his in his field.

For a while, he struggled with trying to make ends meet and then eventually, the housing bubble occurred in 2007, and the recession set in. By November 2007, we were without a home. We motel-hopped for several months, and in February 2008 we were living at a family shelter in Pasadena.  In a car that was older than I was, my dad would drive me every day to Herbert Hoover High School in Glendale, the next town over. He was very dedicated to making sure that my education was completed.

 Members of the UCLA college chapter of School on Wheels in 2012. L-R:  Vanessa Morales, Maribel Soto, former co-signatory; Diana Martinez, current administrator  and signatory; Sanchez, founder and  director; Janethli Barbosa, ReJoyce Green, current   administrator and signatory; Brandon Ruvalcaba, current administrator; and Carlos   Camandang, former co-signatory. Courtesy of Angela Sanchez

Members of the UCLA college chapter of School on Wheels in 2012. L-R: Vanessa Morales, Maribel Soto, former co-signatory; Diana Martinez, current administrator and signatory; Sanchez, founder and director; Janethli Barbosa, ReJoyce Green, current administrator and signatory; Brandon Ruvalcaba, current administrator; and Carlos Camandang, former co-signatory. Courtesy of Angela Sanchez

&: How were you able to complete your high school diploma in such challenging circumstances?

Sanchez: Shelters are run very stringently; they’re like prisons in a lot of ways. You have to check in and check out. There’s a curfew – you can’t spend the night somewhere else. You have to show some proof of income – unemployment, general relief, a drug rehabilitation program, child support. You have to show that you are making some kind of income, which is interesting, because you are homeless for a reason.

After school, I would tutor at my high school in the homework lab. I also had to check my assignments online since I didn’t have wi-fi or internet at the shelter. But my father and I had to be back at the shelter by 5 p.m.

I was fortunate in the sense that I had a laptop, so I could at least type my assignments. My flash drive became my best friend. But there was also a night curfew– you had to go to bed at 9 p.m. and wake up at 6 a.m. I had so many AP classes that I didn’t go to bed at 9 p.m. The shelter director said, “Okay, you can stay up until 10 p.m.”

Fortunately, there was a book room. I would work there until 10 p.m., then, I’d go back to a parenting room, which was like a closet, turn on the light, and write until I had finished my assignments. If the shelter staff found I was awake past curfew, I could have gotten written up. If you were written up several times, you could get evicted.

Then the time came to apply for college. There were times when I had to dictate my essays to my friends on the phone, so they could enter them online for me on their computers. I didn’t have my own cell phone either, and tried not to use up all of my Dad’s minutes. It was very stressful.

&: With all of this going on, how did you manage to gain admission to UCLA?

Sanchez: Trying to be in high school and maintain a high GPA was very hard. But I didn’t tell any of my teachers what I was going through, because I wanted to be “normal” when I got to school each day. My Dad took me to all my SAT tests. I forgot my ID once and he went back to our storage unit to get it.

My Dad was 110 percent supportive. That’s why I think I got into UCLA. I had tremendous parental support.

&: What compelled you to give back to the community by establishing a School on Wheels college chapter?

Sanchez: My high school counselor said that I should take calculus, and I was floundering. Some of the kids at the shelter also were tutored by an individual who didn’t live there. They were affiliated with School on Wheels; they specialize in academic support for homeless students.

I was tutored by a Cal Tech graduate student who was going to become an astrophysicist. What’s funny is that he really wasn’t much older than me, as a high school student. So he became my eyes and ears on what it was to be a university student. He gave me my first tour of a campus, Cal Tech.

Having been through that when I got to UCLA, School on Wheels was something I wanted to keep in touch with. I created a School on Wheels at UCLA student group. We do everything our parent organization does. On top of that, we do campus tours and provide financial aid and financial literacy workshops. We provide college admission workshops as well. We tutor at shelters on the Westside and North Hollywood.

Having a tutor became more than just academic support – it became a mentorship. For someone from outside the shelter who came every week on a consistent basis made me feel really special. That was a lot of support that I can’t be thankful enough for.

&: What do you look forward to most in a career in student affairs?

Sanchez: Education shouldn’t be a “debt sentence,” like it is now. If you are very thrifty and resourceful, you can make it through college fairly unscathed, maybe even keep it down.

The average [student debt] has about $30,000 right when they get out now. If students can scrape by with maybe $10,000 in loans, they’re doing well. Unfortunately, they don’t always know about all the scholarships that are available or get discouraged about not getting one the first time. I think if students became more aware of the resources available to them, it would be easier.

Right now, UCLA is debating over having a financial literacy requirement in light of what the recession brought. I think if more students had a bit of that integrated into their curriculum, it can make college more manageable and affordable.

&: How did you get through the financial aid process?

Sanchez: I graduated with $2,000 in loans – I just  finished paying it off. I’ll have to take out more for next year, but I’m okay with it – it’s for a master’s degree.

I received a lot of financial support from UCLA to do my senior thesis, because my undergraduate years were heavily paid by scholarships. I had research stipends to go to New York and Boston to visit private collections and study magicians’ collections for my research. I even taught a class on minority magicians a year ago over at Royce Hall as an undergrad through UCLA’s Undergraduate Student Initiated Education Program, USIE.

&: What is your dream job?

Sanchez: I’d be working in scholarships or the financial aid department, helping other students. I’d be helping them see what their options are and see how they can get through college. I would be making some sort of impact that would be beneficial to students pursuing enrichment and refinement through education.

There’s a difference when you’ve been college-educated and having had exposure to what your options are. It’s not like doing the same old, “here’s school again.” It’s much more than that. It’s meeting people, learning how to network, how to appreciate people, how to build something.

In college there are so many opportunities to delve into research or community action. That’s something that UCLA does really well – getting students’ feet wet in the community around them. My first day as a freshman was UCLA Volunteer Day; we painted the field at  Miguel Contreras High School.  When you’re educated, you think globally, it’s not just about your immediate [surroundings]; it’s thinking beyond your world.

My personal definition of education is that it’s not just knowledge – it’s awareness of your circumstances and how they can be different in the future. Being able to see what your future can look like, and seeing how your future weaves into what the community is doing and how it needs you – what you can do to give back. It’s not just me in my own space; it becomes us.