Growing up in Anaheim, Calif., Loretta Sanchez—the second of seven siblings-was known as the bossy one. Younger sister Linda was the rebel, sensitive to injustice everywhere, especially at home. “She was mad that I let the boys stay out later,” recalls their mother, Maria Macias, 65. “They had fewer rules than the girls.”
Now Linda and Loretta will be helping to make the rules—for the nation. On Nov. 5 the daughters of Mexican immigrants became the first sisters ever elected to Congress. “I want to make a difference for all kinds of people, not just women and Latinos,” says three-term Democratic incumbent Loretta, 42, a former investment banker who trounced Republican challenger Jeff Chavez in Orange County’s 46th District. Adds civil rights lawyer and political newcomer Linda, 33, a Democrat who defeated Tim Escobar in the neighboring 39th District: “Our issues are anything that impacts working folks.”
Those are issues both know well. The Sanchez kids shared a three-bedroom, one-bath house with their now-divorced parents: Ignacio, 78, a retired machinist, and Maria, who sold Avon products door-to-door while raising her kids and now teaches second grade in both Spanish and English. All seven children made it to college (Loretta holds an MBA from Georgetown, Linda a law degree from UCLA), thanks in part to a strict upbringing in which TV was banned.
Despite that prohibition, Maria went on to appear in Spanish-language political ads for her daughters. Says Loretta: “She’s our secret weapon.” Indeed, every Sanchez campaign is a family affair. During Loretta’s first victorious race in ’96, she says, Ignacio was assigned the “Bs”: “He went to barber shops, beauty shops and bars giving out material.”
Linda looks forward to having an instant ally in her new workplace. “With a sister in Congress,” she says, “I have an advantage.” And an ideal roomie in her new city. They both plan to commute home on weekends to see their husbands—Loretta is married to bond and equities trader Stephen Brixey, 40, and Linda to Mark Valentine, 38, a small-business owner. But during the workweek, they may share space, “if we can find a house we can afford that’s big enough for both of us,” says Loretta. “Maybe one with an east wing and a west wing.”