First, a confession. I'm a Trojan alum, and a proud, loyal, cardinal-and-gold-hat-and-shirt wearing one at that. In January 2005, accompanied by a friend, I attended the USC vs. Oklahoma national championship game in Miami as a fan and we celebrated late into the night after the Trojans stomped the Sooners. Only a few months after that game, Mark Sanchez made his first appearance on a USC practice field.
Even though I'm Mexican, I didn't initially take to Sanchez. I knew he was a highly-regarded recruit, but really they all are at USC. I also knew he was from a predominantly white area in Orange County. Did I hold that against him? No. But it also didn't help me warm to him right away.
These issues of Mexican identity are heated in Southern California, where Mexicans either love or hate Oscar de la Hoya because he wasn't born in Mexico and because he twice beat up Julio Cesar Chavez, a Mexican icon.
Would Sanchez face the same fate?
We found out when Sanchez wore a Mexican flag mouthpiece against Notre Dame while subbing for the injured John David Booty. Soon, the mouthpiece game became the "it" moment for Sanchez: the day he became recognized as a Mexican.Sadly, it took a piece of equipment for people to think of him in that way event though his roots run deep into Mexico.
The mouthpiece spurred me into tracing Sanchez's family history. Really, the story of the Sanchez clan is the story of Los Angeles and the story of America. In truth, it will be the story of my family. Most of us were born in Mexico, but we are now entrenched in America. With the kind cooperation of the Mark and his family, I was able to retrace the early steps of a how his Mexican-American family came to exist.
At first I hesitated diving into this story. As a Latino sportswriter I've always feared being typecast as the Latino beat guy. I wanted to write about American athletes as much as I wanted to write about Latino ones. A well-respected colleague changed my mind. "Write about your people," he said. "If you don't, no one else will."
He was right. So consider the Sanchez piece Part 1 of a career-long project about the story of my people.