From the end of World War II to the mid-1970s, Hispanic-American Members of Congress faced momentous changes outside the institution. They responded by emphasizing the improvement of national conditions over local and regional interests. As local civil rights organizations in the Southwest and the Northeast organized, gaining influence and challenging discriminatory practices, Hispanic-American Members continued to serve their constituents by acquiring resources, promoting legislation, and learning institutional mores so as to become more powerful and effective legislators. As middle- and working-class Mexican Americans mobilized to challenge discrimination during the civil rights era, some Mexican- American Members of Congress used their influence to push through civil rights legislation and lobbied the Kennedy and Johnson administrations on behalf of their constituents. By the late 1960s, dissatisfaction with the uneven progress of the civil rights movement prompted a more confrontational stance that demanded immediate social benefits in exchange for political support.

Despite divisions regarding tactics, Hispanic-American Members began to promote the legislative interests that were common to Mexican-American and Puerto Rican civil rights activists. The elimination by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (and its various extensions) of many legalistic barriers to voting and political participation set the stage for an increase in the number of Hispanic-American Members, with an enhanced ability to gain access to important committees, acquire seniority, and serve as chairmen or Ranking Members or within party leadership. Ideological differences and disagreements over policy sometimes proved divisive, but as Hispanic-American Members acquired more institutional power, their often similar legislative interests enabled them to work toward common goals as members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.