Inducted in 2019
Pitzer’s Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes a graduate who boldly puts the spirit of a Pitzer education into action and demonstrates a commitment to making meaningful changes in their community.
Angela Sanbrano is an acclaimed activist and community organizer who has led some of the nation’s most prominent immigrant- and refugee-rights groups, including the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) and the Central American Resource Center-LA (CARECEN). Sanbrano now serves as co-executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
Born in Juarez, Mexico, and raised in El Paso, TX, Sanbrano majored in psychology at Pitzer. She began community organizing in the ’70s, advocating bilingual education and housing rights in Los Angeles. In 1983, Sanbrano earned a law degree at the Peoples College of Law in LA, where she met Salvadoran refugees fleeing their country’s civil war. Two years later, she became executive director of CISPES, a national grassroots organization that supports social and economic justice in El Salvador and opposes US intervention in the Central American country. She served as an official witness of the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords in Mexico City, which ended the 12-year civil war in El Salvador in 1992.
Sanbrano took the helm of CARECEN, the largest Central American immigrant rights organization in the US, in the mid-1990s, leading the organization as its executive director until 2007. During that time, she helped organize the massive 2006 immigrant rights march in LA that drew more than one million people to the streets, according to organizers’ estimates.
In addition to her work with CISPES and CARECEN, Sanbrano was president of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, now called Alianza Americas, when it won a 2010 MacArthur “Genius” Award for Creative & Effective Institutions. Last fall, Sanbrano witnessed the canonization of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero at the Vatican in Rome, where she spoke to Pope Francis about the plight of Salvadorans and children who are facing deportation from the US.
She is also the co-chair of the Latino and Latina Roundtable of the Pomona and San Gabriel Valley and chair of CARECEN’s Board of Directors. Now president emeritus of Alianza Americas, Sanbrano has also sat on the boards of many other organizations, including the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, National Council of La Raza, now called UNIDOSUS, and the National Immigration Forum.
Reflecting on her many accomplishments, Sanbrano calls her Pitzer education “a turning point in my life.”
“As a first-generation immigrant and the first member of my family to go to college, it was important to find a supportive educational environment,” Sanbrano said. “I found that and more at Pitzer. The educational environment, interdisciplinary academic program, community engagement approach and a culturally diverse student body broadened my understanding of my own identity and deepened my commitment to building a more just and humane world with racial and economic equity.”