On September 30, 1822, Joseph M. Hernández began his service in Congress as Florida’s first Territorial Delegate, pioneering Hispanic-American representation in the American republic. Like other Hispanic Americans in the federal legislature during the 1800s, Hernández advanced from the periphery of the Union to hold a brief term in an office whose core duties were more diplomatic than legislative, working to turn the former Spanish colony where he was born into a state. Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822–2012, chronicles the story of Hernández and the 90 Hispanics who followed him into Congress.1 In helping to shape Congress, these nuevomexicanos, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans, and Guamanians, among others, enriched U.S. history.
The United States House, the Senate, and the career trajectories of their Hispanic Members have undergone extensive change during this span of nearly two centuries. During our research for this book, several recurring themes raised the following questions: How did these individuals’ experiences compare to those of other newly enfranchised Americans, particularly African Americans during Reconstruction and women in the early 20th century? To what degree did American expansion influence the story of Hispanic Americans in Congress? How did their decades-long status as statutory representatives with constituents at the fringes of the continental United States affect their legislative priorities and shape their legislative styles? What was their reaction to the political culture of Capitol Hill, and how did they overcome institutional barriers?
1The closing date for the individuals included in this volume was September 1, 2012.