Dennis Chavez

Dionisio "Dennis" Chavez (April 8, 1888 - November 18, 1962) was a Democratic politician from the U.S. State of New Mexico who served in the United States House of Representatives and in the United States Senate from 1935 to 1962.

Early life

Chavez was born in Los Chaves, Valencia County, New Mexico. His parents, David and Paz Chavez , were members of families that had lived in Los Chavez for generations. In 1895, David Chavez moved his family to the Barelas section of Albuquerque where Dennis attended school until financial hardships necessitated that he work. His first job was delivering groceries at the Highland Grocery store. Later on, he studied engineering and surveying at night and worked as an engineer for the City of Albuquerque for several years.

In 1911, Chavez married Imelda Espinosa, a member of a prominent New Mexico family. In 1914, they moved to Belen. He worked briefly as editor of a Belen weekly newspaper, as a court interpreter, and as a private contractor until 1916, when he obtained temporary employment as a Spanish interpreter for Senator Andrieus A. Jones' election campaign. In 1917, he was offered a position as assistant executive clerk of the Senate in Washington, D.C. by Senator Jones. He accepted this position, passed a special admission exam at Georgetown University Law Center and studied law at night. He graduated from Georgetown in 1920 and returned to Albuquerque to establish a law practice.

Early political career

In 1922, Chavez ran successfully for the New Mexico state legislature; he did not seek another term. In 1930, he was elected as a Democratic candidate to New Mexico's then-only seat in the United States House of Representatives and was re-elected in 1932. While serving, he was chairman of the House Committee on Indian Affairs.

Senate career

First full-term Hispanic U.S. Senator 1935 to 1962


Chavez died in Washington D.C. on November 18, 1962 and is buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Albuquerque. The Congress honored his memory with a minute of silence and then-Vice-President Lyndon Johnson spoke at his funeral. At the time of his death, he was fourth-ranking in Senate seniority.


He was the first native-born Hispanic elected to the U. S. Senate, and only the second Hispanic in its history. Chavez was a minority politician in the Senate, at a time when his ethnicity was regarded with contempt and racism by many. He was also the first person born in New Mexico elected by the state to the Senate. By a large margin, he is the longest serving Hispanic U.S. Senator.

He accomplished many notable things, but the way New Mexicans remember him is perhaps the most impressive of all. People would travel dozens of miles in the state just to hear him speak and he always amazed them by remembering his constituents' names years after he met them. He was an endearing and warm figure, who was easily likable and seemed very driven. This is perhaps why he is regarded so highly by those who can remember him.

A granddaughter, Gloria Tristani, followed in his footsteps in public service, serving as chair of the New Mexico State Corporations Commission in 1996, a member of the Federal Communications Commission from 1997 to 2001 and as the Democratic candidate to the United States Senate seat from New Mexico in the 2002 elections.

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