Hispanic Americans in Congress

Mariano Otero of New Mexico/tiles/non-collection/p/part1_17_otero_mariano_sabino_nma.xml Image courtesy of the Miguel A. Otero Photograph Collection (PICT 000-021-0127), Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico A successful entrepreneur who served a term as New Mexico’s Delegate to Congress (1879–1881), Mariano Otero aligned himself with the powerful Santa Fe Ring to expand his political influence.
“I hold that no citizen has the right to refuse to serve his country in any public position to which his fellow citizens may call him.”
—Delegate Mariano Otero of the New Mexico Territory  

The election of Delegate Joseph Marion Hernández of Florida to Congress in 1822 marked the beginning of Hispanic Americans’ advancement from the periphery of the Union to the center of American government. During the last century, Hispanic Members have overcome many barriers to make historic gains in both the House and the Senate. From participation in the federal legislature to the struggle to attain full civil rights, Hispanic-American representation in Congress has undergone extensive change.

Fast Facts

  • First Hispanic American to serve in Congress
    DelegateJoseph Marion Hernández of Florida was elected to the House of Representatives on September 30, 1822, and served until March 3, 1823.
  • First Hispanic-American Representative elected to Congress
    Romualdo Pacheco of California began his service in the U.S. House of Representatives when he was  elected to the 45th Congress (1877–1879).
  • First Hispanic-American Member to speak on the House Floor
    Delegate Miguel Antonio Otero of the New Mexico Territory spoke on the House Floor on July 23, 1856.
  • First Hispanic American to chair a congressional committee
    Romualdo Pacheco of California became the Chairman of the House Committee on Private Land Claims in  1881.
Romualdo Pacheco of California Election Certificate/tiles/non-collection/p/part1_19_pacheco_romualdo_election_certificate_na.xml Romualdo Pacheco’s original election certificate; image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration On November 10, 1879, California Governor William Irwin certified Romualdo Pacheco’s election as a U.S. Representative for California’s Fourth District.
  • First Hispanic American popularly elected to the Senate
    Dennis Chavez of New Mexico was popularly elected to the Senate in 1936.
  • First Hispanic-American woman elected to Congress
    Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida began her House service on August 29, 1989.
  • First Hispanic American to serve as Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico
    Federico Degetau was first elected to serve as Resident Commissioner in 1900.
  • First Hispanic-American Member to succeed his parent in Congress
    Resident Commissioner Jorge Luis Córdova-Díaz of Puerto Rico (1968–1973), indirectly succeeded his father Resident Commissioner Félix Córdova Dávila of Puerto Rico (1917–1932)
  • Longest congressional tenure for a Hispanic Member of Congress
    Henry B. González of Texas holds the record for the longest congressional tenure for a Hispanic Member of Congress. González served from November 1961 to January 1999 for a total of more than 37 years.
  • State or Territory with the most Hispanic-American Members of Congress
    Historically, Puerto Rico has had the most Hispanic-American Members of Congress.

Teaching Tips

  1. Ask students to locate three Historical Highlights dates that focus on Hispanic Americans who served in Congress. Use Hispanic Americans in Congress to research more about each of these Members.

  2. Begin a class discussion with Representative Ladislas Lazaro’s quote, “The duty of one aspiring to political leadership is to think with his people and with courage endeavor to point out the path of honor and prosperity.” Ask students to think about the meaning of the quote, the possible context, and how the statement may have been related to the experience of the early Hispanic-American Members who served in Congress. Have students compile a list of traits they believe a leader should possess and start a class discussion about the different types of leaders.

  3. Ask students to choose one former Hispanic-American Member of Congress. Have students create a list of biographical and legislative information about this Member, as well as any other distinctive or unique aspects to his/her career. Organize a mock press conference in which each person answers questions about his/her Member and shares important highlights with the rest of the class.