The Children of Sanchez

BOOK: The Children of Sanchez
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Praise for Oscar Lewis’s

“Lewis has made something brilliant and of singular significance, a work of such unique concentration and sympathy that one hardly knows how to classify it. It is all, every bit of it except for the introduction, spoken by the members of the Sánchez family. They tell their feelings, their lives, explain their nature, their actual existence with all the force and drama and seriousness of a large novel.… The result is a moving, strange tragedy, not an interview, a questionnaire or a sociological study.”

—Elizabeth Hardwick,
The New York Times Book Review

“Oscar Lewis’s books on Mexico and Puerto Rico awakened in many of us a feeling that we must do more to alleviate the world’s poverty.”

—The Christian Science Monitor

The Children of Sánchez
is an amazing achievement.… So exciting, so moving, so full of human warmth and sadness.”

—The Spectator

“The exciting thing about
The Children of Sánchez
, the fact which makes it a new point of departure in its field, is its humanity, its quality of projecting the individual, agonizing voice of the poor as they describe their own plight. This is a real accomplishment, original and full of substance.”

—Michael Harrington,

“[Lewis’s] masterpiece.… Uniquely, for me, his book depicts a world—the society of poverty—which creates its own survival structures and rationale. Its voices are at once warm and cynical, hoping and resigned. To read it is to be forcibly woken from the middle-class dream.”

—Colin Thubron,
The Sunday Telegraph

“Lewis has created a book of far greater and more lasting significance than any sociological treatise is likely to be … a work that eludes classification, for what it tragically and beautifully portrays is not fiction.… This book is a classic in the exact sense—it is a standard by which other books of the same kind may be judged, and it is a touchstone for our evaluation of literature and of life itself.”

—The Scotsman

“Rightly revered.… Most participant-observer sociologists (like Robert Coles) owe much to its perceptive author.”

—The Globe and Mail

“Indeed, both sociology and psychology stand to benefit from a study in which social surroundings and emotional problems are so clearly intertwined.”

Scientific American

“Here at last is a social scientist who neither explains poverty nor sits in judgment of it.… Whether judged as literature or as sociology
The Children of Sánchez
is a masterpiece.”

New Statesman

“A work of enormous influence and very great beauty.…
The Children of Sánchez
does not need any frame of reference; it is raw material made miraculously available to workers in a host of fields ranging from pure sociology through anthropology to psychology.”

—The Sunday Observer

“The crime of poverty is exposed in these stories with a precision and immediacy which never destroys the humanity of the individual.… We gain in the case of this book, a narrative which is continuously readable and continuously frightening.”

—The Sunday Times

Oscar Lewis

Oscar Lewis was born in New York City in 1914 and grew up on a small farm in upstate New York. He received his Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University in 1940, and taught at Brooklyn College and Washington University before helping to found the anthropology department at the University of Illinois, where he was a professor from 1948 until his death. From his first visit to Mexico in 1943, Mexican peasants and city dwellers were among his major interests. In addition to
The Children of Sánchez
, his other studies of Mexican life include
Life in a Mexican Village, Five Families, Pedro Martinez
, and
A Death in the Sánchez Family
. He is also the author of
La Vida: A Puerto Rican Family in the Culture of Poverty—San Juan and New York
, which won the National Book Award, and
Living the Revolution: An Oral History of Contemporary Cuba
, with his wife, Ruth Maslow Lewis, and Susan M. Rigdon. Lewis also published widely in both academic journals and popular periodicals such as
. Some of his best-known articles were collected in
Anthropological Essays
(1970). The recipient of many distinguished grants and fellowships, including two Guggenheims, Lewis was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He died in 1970.

Susan M. Rigdon is a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois, where she worked with Ruth Maslow Lewis for more than thirty years. She is the author of
The Culture Facade: Art, Science, and Politics in the Work of Oscar Lewis


Living the Revolution:
An Oral History of Contemporary Cuba
with Ruth M. Lewis and Susan M. Rigdon

Anthropological Essays

A Death in the Sánchez Family

A Study of Slum Culture: Backgrounds for
La Vida (1968)

La Vida: A Puerto Rican Family in the Culture of Poverty—
San Juan and New York

Pedro Martinez: A Mexican Peasant and His Family

Tepoztlán: Village in Mexico

Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty

Village Life in Northern India: Studies in a Delhi Village

Group Dynamics in a North-Indian Village:
A Study of Factions

Life in a Mexican Village: Tepoztlan Restudied


Copyright © 1961 by Oscar Lewis, copyright renewed 1989 by Ruth Lewis Foreword and afterword copyright © 2011 by Susan M. Rigdon

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in slightly different form in hardcover in the United States by Random House, Inc., New York, in 1961, and subsequently published in paperback in the United States by Vintage Books, New York, in 1963.

Vintage and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to Mary Catherine Bateson for permission to reproduce Margaret Mead’s letters to Jason Epstein and Oscar Lewis.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Random House edition as follows:
Lewis, Oscar, 1914–1970.
The children of Sánchez : autobiography of a Mexican family / by Oscar Lewis.
—1st ed.
p. cm.
1. Families—Mexico—Case studies. 2. Poor—Mexico—Mexico City—Biography. 3. Mexico—social conditions.

eISBN: 978-0-307-74454-8

Cover design by Cardon Webb


I dedicate this book
with profound affection and gratitude
to the Sánchez family
whose identity must remain anonymous




Margaret Mead on

When Random House asked famed anthropologist Margaret Mead to blurb a new book by Oscar Lewis, she graciously responded with the following letters to then-Editorial Director Jason Epstein and the author himself.

February 28, 1962

Mr. Jason Epstein

Random House, Inc

457 Madison Avenue

New York 22, N.Y

Dear Mr. Epstein:

I am very glad to send you comment on Dr. Lewis’
Children of Sánchez.
The only reason that I did not comment before was that I was in Europe when the book arrived in my office, and by the time I got back, the press was filled with such laudatory reviews that I thought any comments I might make would be redundant. I have recently had occasion to use the book in a seminar of very senior people of several disciplines which has made all the issues involved fresh in my mind

I think
Children of Sánchez
is one of the outstanding contributions of anthropology—of all time. Drawing on his many years of detailed responsible participating field work in Mexico, and upon his sympathy for the Mexican people, Oscar Lewis has produced
a work which uniquely combines the requirements of science and of humanism. By preserving the actual words of each informant, he preserves the authenticity of the material, and presents it in a form that gives the roundedness which is essential to all good anthropological field work. That his informants were specially gifted in the expressiveness of a people whose speech has not been very influenced by formal schooling should not be taken as an accident, for they were chosen from some hundred families that he knew. The length of the book is crucial; a shorter book might have failed to balance pity with terror, violence with little unremembered acts of kindness. His special interest in poverty and the accompaniments of poverty sharpens the relevance of this book to problems of modern urban life. Beside its vividness, its intensity, its fully felt experience, the attempts at “social realism” of the Depression years built as they were upon sympathy and dogma but lacking scientific and experiential substance, pale into insignificance. Oscar Lewis has succeeded, by his choice of his raconteurs, in achieving the type of pity for man’s estate in a harsh world which chimes beautifully with Mexican aspirations for themselves, and the aspirations of the privileged for the underprivileged wherever they may be

Sincerely yours
Margaret Mead

February 28, 1962

Professor Oscar Lewis

University of Illinois

Urbana, Illinois

Dear Oscar:

I mean this, all of it. It occurs to me also how absolutely delighted Ruth Benedict would have been

Margaret Mead

BOOK: The Children of Sanchez
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