Nancy Alicia De Los Santos Reza was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents were born in Texas and migrated to the big city after World War II. Nancy’s father, Nicolas, served in the Navy. Her mother, Micaela, was a stay-at-home mother and housewife, raising six children. Their own negative experience with speaking Spanish in Texas schools, led to the decision for their children to speak English only.
From a young age, Nancy experienced the segregation and racial tension that characterized Chicago in the 1970s. As a young Mexican-American girl, she grew up surrounded by a loving and large Mexican American family; but outside of the family, being “Mexican” was not considered an asset.
Nancy struggled with finding her identity among her black and white peers at the public and parochial schools she attended. She did find a sense of belonging among the Spanish Chantels, a girl gang and social club as a young girl. Later she would discover a similar sense of community with the Pilsen community organization Mujeres Latinas en Acción.
Despite being a bright high school student, no one ever encouraged Nancy to consider attending college. Instead, she–like other young Latina students–was steered to Jones Commercial High School: a secretarial school that provided half day office jobs for seniors in high school and taught them office skills and personal grooming. After graduation Nancy began a secretarial job at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. While there, she met a coworker whose family had sent him from Bogota, Colombia to attend college in Chicago, and it was he who convinced her to attend college. She began studying at Chicago City College, transferred to Northeastern Illinois University, and eventually finished her bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin. She later completed her Masters in Communications at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
It was at Northeastern University that Nancy’s interest in Chicano and Chicana activism and identity peaked. She became co-editor with fellow student José Gaspar of the Chicano student newspaper, “Contra la pared.” She also met a few influential professors, sociologists Samuel Betances and Alberto Mata, who shaped her thinking and encouraged her to pursue an independent study on Latinos in television in Los Angeles. During this period, Nancy traveled to the west coast with Gaspar, where they audited classes for a semester at Cal State Northridge and were immersed in this birthplace of Chicano studies, studying with famed Rudy Acuña and Raul Ruiz. By the time she transferred to the University of Texas, Nancy knew she wanted to study media.
During the mid-1970s, Nancy’s involvement with the advocacy group “Mujeres Latinas en Acción” became they very foundation of her social activism. This group changed a lot for Nancy in terms of her identity and clarity as a Latina and a Chicana. In 1975 she attended the International Women’s Year Conference in Mexico City with the group, which gave her a new perspective on her heritage, her gender, and the world. The influence of Mujeres Latinas marked a key step for Nancy on her long journey towards embracing her Mexican heritage and supporting feminist ideology.
After graduating from the University of Texas’s Radio, Television, and Film Department, Nancy completed her Master’s degree in Communications at the University of Michigan, and then moved back to her hometown to work for WTTW11, the public TV channel in Chicago. She worked her way up to become the producer of “At the Movies” with film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. Nancy is now a successful and well-respected writer, producer, and director. She’s been involved with numerous projects including her own celebrated documentary “The Bronze Screen: 100 Years of the Latino Image in Hollywood Cinema”, a historical look at Latinos in Hollywood.
Nancy continues to write, produce, and direct in L.A., and to live her life mission to create realistic images of Latinos and Latinas in the media.