Matthew Wasniewski – Hispanic Americans in Congress 1822 – 2012

Matthew Wasniewski – Hispanic Americans in Congress 1822 – 2012


I’m Richard McCulley. I’m the historian
at the Center for Legislative Archives. Thank you for attending today’s researcher talk,
this last day of July, and this is the last talk in the series until we resume in September.
For those of you in attendance, our guest hardly needs an introduction. Matt Wasniewski
is the Historian of the U.S. House of Representatives and an ex-officio member of the Advisory Committee
on the Records of Congress, to which the Center for Legislative Archives reports twice annually.
He is a long time friend and supporter, as well a source of guidance to the Center through
his service on the Advisory Committee. Matt’s here today to discuss Hispanic Americans
in Congress 1822-2012, which was published last year. This is a third in a series that
has come out of the House Office of the Historian under Matt’s leadership, the previously
published volumes being Women in Congress 1917-2006, published in 2006, and Black Americans
in Congress 1870-2007, published in 2008. The total page count for these three volumes,
I calculated, is 2,573, and still counting. I believe there’s the fourth volume in the
works. We’re going to make Ken write short.
So, this series obviously represents a very substantial effort for which we’re all grateful,
and we are very eager to hear about this latest publication, and thank you so much for joining
us, Matt. Thanks for inviting me. It’s a pleasure
to be here, pleasure to see so many familiar faces. I, your reference to page count was
excellent, because I was recently talking to a—and this is the book by the way, in
hard cover version—I was recently talking to a major trade press editor, and she was
telling me about a few of her authors, one of whom is a very well known historian, and
she writes big, thick, 800 page history books. And she related a story that the author had
told her of a friend who bought the authors book and said, “This is just a fantastic
book! I can’t put it down! I’m, you know, I’m taking it to get dressed; I’m taking
it to bed! And last night I was reading it in bed, and holding it up like this, and I
fell asleep. And the book dropped on the bridge of my nose. And now I have a bruise.” Well,
the editor thought that this was a teachable moment for the author and said, “No more
broken books, there’s a—no more broken noses! That’s the new book rule here. No
more 800 pagers.” This book definitely violates that rule. It
is a nose-breaker. In fact I think it’s the, it fits the Arnold Schwarzenegger rule,
which is you get your work out when you lift it up. But it’s meant as a reference book,
like the earlier books in the series on women and minorities in Congress.
I think one of the interesting things that happens when you write about individual members
in some length—the essays are about 1,500, maybe they range to 3,000 words—is that
you get what lookS like, at first, seemingly disconnected dots. And then, kind of through
an act of pointillism, the dots begin to make a bigger picture. And certainly, a larger
picture emerged as we were working on this publication. To give you some quick background
on the book, again, it’s, as Richard mentioned, the third in a series. In some ways, it’s
a book that is very much like its two predecessors. Women in Congress, we published the latest
edition of that in 2007, and the book on African Americans we published in 2009. These were
all originally authorized by print resolution, by Congress, and the prime mover behind the
original edition in the 1970’s was Lindy Boggs of Louisiana, who was a great proponent
for House history, and did a lot to promote the history of the institution.
Those books were like pamphlets, at the time, because so few women and African Americans
had actually served in Congress. A second edition was published, of both those books,
in the early 90’s, and a volume on Hispanic Americans was added. At that point, we didn’t
have a history operation in the House, and so the Library of Congress Hispanic Division
produced that first edition, which appeared in 1995. And this is, so, the second edition
of Hispanic Americans, and we are working, as Richard alluded to, a book on Asian/Pacific
Islander Americans, which is a few years down the road, but that will wrap up the series.
It mirrors the structure of the books on women and black Americans in Congress. There are
individual essays about every member introduced in chronological order, with contextual essays
that set them in generational groups. These are fortified by appendices and historical
images and artifacts, some of which, people around the table have helped us find, and
it’s aimed at an upper-high school, upper-high school, lower college audience.
And in striking aspects, some of the story lines do mirror one another. Women, African
Americans, Hispanic Americans, in each of those story lines there’s a turning point
where the members become surrogate representatives for the larger Hispanic community, or women,
women’s issues nationally, or African Americans issues. And there’s also a similar part
to the story in terms of how the groups are integrated into Congress over time. There
is a pioneering generation that has to work their way into the institution. There’s
generally a long apprenticeship phase where they gain seniority, and get on good committees,
and work their way up into leadership. Then there’s kind of a mature, integration phase,
and that usually happens when there’s a critical mass of enough members to create
an issues caucus and drive a legislative agenda. But in many aspects, this story is really
distinct from women and African Americans. For one thing, it’s a story that stretches
all the way back to 1822, to Joseph Marion Hernandez, our first Hispanic American in
Congress. So it’s a century before women, a half-century before we see African Americans
in Congress. And really the early part of the story is driven by American foreign policy—expansion
continentally and then globally—the acquisition of Florida from Spain, the Louisiana purchase,
the annexation of Texas, the War with Mexico in 1848, the Spanish American War.
The first century is also about, another one of the themes that emerges is democracy at
the, representation at the borders of American democracy. About how individuals who political
scientists call statutory representatives, delegates and representatives who the Constitution
didn’t really contemplate, and how they were incorporated into Congress. How Congress
not only created that office but often gave them very limited and circumscribed powers.
And then the fact that these individuals for the most part, were representing majority
Hispanic constituencies, and the question of how these people would be incorporated
or whether they would be incorporated into the body politic. An interesting aspect of
this story is that, up until World War II, two thirds of Hispanic American representation
in Congress were these statutory representatives, delegates, mainly delegates from New Mexico
and then resident commissioners from Puerto Rico.
And so from a research perspective this book was a little bit different because, unlike
the fields of women’s history and African American history, Hispanic or Latino studies
doesn’t have as many monographs or political biographies of the individuals who are covered
here. And in this aspect the field is somewhat undeveloped and splintered. So much of our
research relied on primary sources—paper collections in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New
Mexico, local and regional Spanish and English language newspapers. We relied heavily on
the Hispanic Division, which was fantastic at the Library of Congress, Georgette Dorne
and Tracy North. They guided us to resources both in New Mexico
and Puerto Rico and also helped us with the storyline of the book. And we used the Library
of Congress’ periodicals room to look at a number of newspapers, particularly Puerto
Rican newspapers—La Correspondencia, El Mundo and La Democracia and the ever helpful
San Juan Star, which was the only one of the three that was in English. And then at National
Archives, to capture the story particularly of Puerto Rican resident commissioners but
also territorial delegates, we went into a number of different record groups—the Department
of Interior: Territorial Papers, record group 48; the records of the Office of the Territories,
record group 126; Bureau of Insular Affairs, record group 350; and then, in addition to
that, the Center for Legislative Archives supplied us with a lot of images of original
documents and certificates of election. So, the book is structured, again, like the
volumes on women in Congress, and African Americans, around several long generations
or storyline breaks. The first runs from 1822-1898, the era of continental expansion in the U.S.
The second breaks down from the Spanish American War to World War II, an era of U.S. colonial
expansion, global expansion. And then the third period runs from World War II until,
through the Civil Rights Movement, up until 1976. The Hispanic Caucus was created in December
of 1976, and that was another turning point. And then post-1977 is the modern era, after
the founding of the caucus. I thought it might be useful to go through
a couple of the individuals here along the way, and just trace the storyline. And I’m
happy to take questions at the end. I’m hoping to leave fifteen or twenty minutes
for that. The first individual here, Joseph Hernandez,
served a very brief term. He’s an incredibly interesting person, more for his career outside
of Congress because it was so short, but he was one of those individuals who helped kind
of bridge the state’s cultural and government, governmental transition from Spanish colony
to U.S. territory. He had fought for Spain prior to the turnover to U.S. control, and
then he later fought for the United States, particularly against Seminole Indians in several
of the conflicts with local Indian tribes. He earned and he lost a great fortune on several
plantations, he owned hundreds of African American slaves; his life was complex. I mean,
this guy was a slave owning, Indian fighting politician who, it turned out would be cut
really from the Jacksonian cloth, and he embodied towards statehood and representation that
many of the delegates in the nineteenth century later would.
His term of service was very brief, but it set a precedent for later territorial delegates.
He was the very first delegate from Florida, so he leaves at the end of the 17th Congress.
His focus for the couple months that he was in the House was largely internal improvements.
And this is a storyline that follows throughout the nineteenth century, too. He focused on
a postal road from Saint Augustine to Pensacola. Like a lot of the delegates in the nineteenth
century, he had no committee assignments, so his powers were very limited. He could
introduce legislation, he could cajole members, he could lobby, but his powers on the floor
were circumscribed. The story takes a turn, with the war with
Mexico in 1846. This is really the first major turning point in this story, and it raised
questions for Congress particularly, about how territories with culturally unique populations,
acquired from the massive Mexican Cession in the wake of the war and under the provisions
of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, how these would be represented in the Federal Government,
and eventually incorporated. This individual is the second Hispanic American
to serve in Congress; he serves thirty years after Hernandez. Padre Jose Gallegos, and
this is a really interesting story that we came across, originally turned onto it because
we found it in Hinds’ Precedents. He’s elected in 1853; he’s actually the second
delegate from the New Mexican Territory, there was an Anglo delegate who had preceded him,
and Gallegos comes from an interesting background. He had been a legislator in the Mexican Assembly,
representing Nuevo Mexico, which, in the 1840’s was a frontier land. He’d become very adept.
He had been a former priest, and had, after the transition to American rule, had been
defrocked—an American bishop came in and chased him out. And so he switched to a career
in politics, and he comes to Washington in 1853 and he does not speak English. He knows
very little about the American political system. He knows very little about the party that
he’s elected under, the Democrats, but he’s very adept at finding out where the levers
of power are. So his first problem is that he, literally and figuratively, is a voiceless
legislator. He’s relying on members of the House to translate for him, and this tended
to be members from Missouri at the other end of the Santa Fe Trail, who were bilingual.
His friend among them was John Smith Phelps of Missouri, who acted as his informal interpreter
on the floor. But this situation wasn’t going to work for a long time, and Gallegos
knew he had to change this. He went to the head of the Judiciary Committee and the Committee
on Territories, and they both went to the floor on his behalf in early 1854 and pleaded
with the house to allow, first of all, to pay for a translator, and then second, “Okay,
we don’t want to pay for a translator, at least let him bring one on the floor. Give
a translator the privilege of the floor.” In both cases, the House rejected those.
The Chairman on Territories went before the House and said, let him have an interpreter,
and I’m quoting: “In order that he may more effectually understand and participate
in the proceedings of this body. Mr. Gallegos does not understand one word of the English
language, which is the misfortune of his constituents, and this is not for his personal convenience,
but for the convenience of the people that he represents.” The House rejected that
argument, and so what happens is Gallegos is left to have his speeches translated into
English and read by the Clerk of the House, or to have members help him on the floor.
Again, the language barrier isn’t the only impediment: he doesn’t serve on a committee;
he has to lobby other Senators to help him push legislation.
He wins election again, in 1855, but this election is election is contested by another
Hispanic from New Mexico who had run against him, Miguel Otero. And that contested election
really kind of opens a window onto what’s happening in New Mexico politics in the nineteenth
century. Because Gallegos really was part of a dominant faction of Hispanos in the district
who favored kind of the receding Spanish system, they had latched on; they had kind of gained
revolutionary ardor during the Mexican revolution, and that was kind of culturally and politically
where they were coming from. The other side was represented by Otero who was from a business
oriented, the rico class, and that class tended to align with the American political model
which had been introduced in New Mexico. Whereas Gallegos was kind of a pillar of this old
native ruling class, Otero belonged to this group of, many of them, Otero included, U.S.
educated entrepreneurs, who were openly aligned with the Americans. And, here’s a picture
of Otero. So there was a contested election in 1855;
it came down to disputed votes. So what happens on the floor is a fascinating event, and this
is July of 1855: Gallegos is defending himself, through an interpreter, through the Clerk
of the House, reading his statement on the floor, and he stresses his personal ties to
his constituents, describing himself as native to that very Mexican soil. He emphasizes the
fact that Mexican American constituents, quote, “chose me as their representative. I’m
not ashamed whatsoever of what is common to them and me.” And he judged that the sneers
and the jests with which House members had responded to his faltering English really
to be insults against all Nuevo Mexicanos. “As I am their true representative under
the laws, so I claim to be their true type in all that has been the subject of sarcasm
and ridicule in the debates about this contested election. I receive it all as the representative
of my people.” Otero, in sharp contrast, comes onto the floor,
and he speaks in English, he addresses the House, and he repeats salacious claims against
Gallegos going back to his days in the priesthood, and he accuses Gallegos of being a “creature
of an alien political culture,” the Mexican party faction which he described as, quote,
“indulging great hostility against the institutions of the United States.” In contrast to Gallegos,
to, Otero describes himself as being of, and I’m quoting him here, “unmixed, Spanish
decent,” and as part of the Nuevo Mexicano elite who viewed U.S. annexation as salvation,
and, quoting him again, “the only security from the perpetual discords and civil wars
of Mexico. I confess I’ve always been attached to the institutions of this country, and to
have been taught from childhood to look to this quarter for the political regeneration
of my people.” This was a strategy that later territorial delegates like Otero would
adopt, because they believed it was a crucial link in the argument for statehood. Since
they believed Congress needed to be convinced of Nuevo Mexicano’s readiness for self government,
and also, their whiteness. So there’s an interesting multi-layered debate going on
here. And Otero typified Hispanic delegates from
New Mexico in a number of other ways, too, who would serve in the nineteenth century.
His son Mariano would become the first Hispanic to serve as governor of the territory in the
late 1890’s, and these delegates, the Hispanic delegates for New Mexico who represent eight
of the ten Hispanics who served in Congress in the 1800s, they had much in common. They
all came from upper class backgrounds, from wealthy, landed gentry, from well-to-do merchant
families; most of them were interrelated by blood or marriage; most had prior experience
in elective office in the territorial assembly in New Mexico; many were successful entrepreneurs;
in fact the interesting thing is that the delegates office, in many respects, is a launching
pad for their later career in politics. They serve in Washington for a brief term, go back
to the district, and that burnishes their resume, either to hold territorial wide office
or to push forward their business interests. And like many other New Mexico politicians,
and especially other territorial delegates, Otero and other delegates such as Jose Francisco
Chaves had a connection to the Santa Fe Ring, which was the first and perhaps the most notable
political machine in New Mexico politics in this era. The group dominated politics in
the latter half of the nineteenth century, counting among its ranks nearly every governor
of the territory and most federal officials from 1865 through the late 1880’s.
What were these delegates interested in? Largely the same thing that territorial delegates
from any territory, Nebraska, Kansas, wherever, desired—and that was infrastructure improvements.
postal roads, railroads, improvements to harbors and waterways, those things that would spur
trade and business and population growth and lead to stability in the territory and put
it on the road to statehood. The one outlier in this story of territorial delegates in
Romualdo Pacheco of California, who was the first Hispanic American to serve as a full
representative, with voting rights. He also chaired the Land Claims Committee in his final
term, and like New Mexico delegates, he’s interested in internal improvements in California.
It’s important to realize that with Pacheco, with the exception of Pacheco, all these delegates
were constrained by these institutional limits to their powers. New Mexico delegates could
not serve on a committee until the House changed its rules in 1871 and allowed them onto one
committee: the very prestigious Coinage, Weights, and Measures Committee. Made sense for a territory
with a lot of mining interests, but not exactly the Appropriations Committee. They served
brief terms, usually just one in office, and then when someone got a wild hare and decided
they wanted a second term, that set off an interparty fight that could be brutal and
led to messy, contested elections. And so these individuals were very reliant
on their relationships with key committee chairs or powerful people in the House. We
came across a wonderful newspaper quote from the time that summed up the situation this
way: “Territories are really to be pitied. They are like children under a bad step-mother.
There is no position so trying as that of delegate in Congress. They have no vote, are
the veriest beggars, relying entirely on the help of members who have more than they can
do in trying to help their own constituents.” The second phase in the story starts with
the Spanish American War. Like the war with Mexico in 1846, this is really another paradigm
shift in the story. The central question for Congress would become how, or even if, culturally
distinct peoples from non-contiguous territories that were never contemplated as ever being
incorporated into the U.S. body politic, could, or in fact, should be represented in the federal
legislature. And after the U.S. assumed control of Puerto Rico in the wake of the Spanish
American War, U.S. officials for geo-strategic reasons and for economic reasons were loath
to give it up. So, Congress passes the Foraker Act of 1900 which sets up what is in effect
a colonial government for Puerto Rico and creates the office of Resident Commissioner
to Congress. But it left the island’s status ambiguous.
Puerto Ricans at this point were in limbo; they were neither autonomous, nor were they
citizens of the U.S. and the Supreme Court, a few years after the Foraker Act, was really
no clearer on this issue than the Foraker Act itself. The language of Downes v. Bidwell
which was one of the so-called Insular Cases which tried to define territorial status,
had the phrase, and we use it as the title for this section, the territorial inhabitants
were, quote, “foreign, in a domestic sense,” unquote. Resident Commissioners found themselves
in the curious position that territorial delegates had been in the nineteenth century. Their
powers were greatly circumscribed, and after presenting his credentials, this is Federico
Degetau, first Resident Commissioner, comes in in 1901, mid 1901—Degetau was recognized
by Congress, after presenting his credentials to the State Department, and the expectation
was that he was going to lobby officials in government, not just Congress, but across
the Federal Government. But the act’s, the Foraker Act’s ambiguity coupled with this
latent uncertainty about Puerto Rico’s essential fitness for democratic government led Congress
to deny Degetau floor privileges—he couldn’t speak on the floor, he couldn’t come onto
the floor for many months, until, gradually these privileges began to be extended to him.
Eventually he got to the, the second Resident Commissioner got committee assignments.
And so individuals who were in this position tended to act more like diplomats and lobbyists
than legislators. One such individual, one of the more important ones in this era, was
Luis Munoz Rivera, who was a senior statesman by the time he came a Resident Commissioner
in 1911 to the U.S. Congress. He had been a negotiator with the Spanish in the 1890’s,
he’d been a political leader in Puerto Rico in the 1890’s and early 1900’s. He was
a renowned poet, a newspaper editor, I mean, a man of high culture, and he comes to the
U.S., and he’s in this position, after having struggled for so long to kind of carve out
a measure of Puerto Rican autonomy in the waning Spanish Empire, he now has to face
insipid, incipient U.S. colonialism. He’s a devoted and eloquent nationalist,
but he also had a sense of pragmatism and he kind of understood, in a basic way, that
Puerto Rico’s chances for complete sovereignty, certainly in his lifetime, were nil, and that
he was going to focus on a system of promoting home rule and some measure of autonomy within
the American Empire. And to that end, he sought to shape the provisions of the second Jones
Act, which passed in 1917. The Jones Act somewhat liberalized the colonial regime that had been
set up by the Forager Act, but it still kept power concentrated in a council appointed
by the U.S. President. The governors of Puerto Rico were still appointed by the U.S. President
and could override the acts of the Puerto Rican legislature.
Munoz Rivera came onto the floor though, and he’s so eloquent. He said, “Give us now
the field of experiment which we ask of you, that we may show that it is easy for us to
constitute a stable republican government with all possible guarantees for all possible
interests.” And he supported the second Jones Act as kind of a stepping stone to later
reforms. He passed away shortly after passage of the act.
As it does so often, and I’m happy to point it out, the U.S. Senate comes very late to
this story, in fact, more than a century late. This is the first Hispanic American Senator,
Octaviano Larrazolo, who is really a symbolic appointment. He’s appointed in late 1928,
he leaves at the end of Congress in 1929. He’s in poor health, and he passes away
fairly shortly after that. What he’s most interesting for actually is his work in New
Mexico, in the territorial government, and then later after New Mexico becomes a state,
finally in 1912, that he pushes Hispanic civil rights at the state level. So, it’s a fitting
appointment, but highly symbolic because he wasn’t in the Senate very long.
Of course, another first here is Dennis Chavez, who is the first Hispanic American to serve
in both chambers. He’s known best for his long Senate career of course, he was one of
the highest ranking Hispanic Americans in Congress really in the twentieth century because
he chairs three Congressional committees—one in the House, and he goes to the Senate and
he chairs the Public Works Committee, which is a major part of his career. But, his career
which bridges the New Deal and into World War II makes him a transitional figure in
this story, and he really is the first Hispanic American member of Congress who we can point
to and say: “Here’s someone who’s acting a surrogate representative.” He’s advocating
for people far beyond the boundaries of his district or his state, and he’s speaking
for Hispanic Americans nationally. He does this with his work on the Fair Employment
Practices Commission and then also in advocating for greater Puerto Rican autonomy in the late
1940’s and into the 1950’s. So this storyline largely follows after World
War II, the storyline that we are familiar with with women and African Americans. It’s
tied into the larger push for Civil Rights in the post-World War II era, and again there
are two kind of principle strands post-1945. The first involves Mexican American strides
towards Civil Rights in the mainland U.S. which were enabled by Chavez and other Hispanic
Congressmen. And the second was Puerto Rico’s evolution from a territory to commonwealth,
which was made possible by a line of reform-minded Puerto Rican Resident Commissioners. These
strands were kind of widely divergent at the beginning of the period, but by the end, they
come together. Resources are pooled; agendas are—that had been local are nationalized.
There’s a large grassroots movement, the community service organizations in California,
groups like this La Raza by the end of the period which is a more radical political movement,
come together. And this is a period in Congress where Hispanic
American members really serve a long, institutional apprenticeship. The length of service increases
for them, they receive more prominent committee assignments, just a handful of the people
here who stick out in this period: Antonio Fernos-Isern, the longest serving Resident
Commissioner from Puerto Rico, and the principle architect of the Puerto Rico’s move to commonwealth
status in the early 1950’s. He was widely respected by House colleagues, he had a very
close working relationship with the long-time Puerto Rican Governor, Luis Munoz Marin, who
was the son of Munoz Rivera, and that partnership, ended in, or produced, the commonwealth change
in the fifties which increased Puerto Rican autonomy.
Another individual here Henry Gonzales. Gonzales gets his start in local politics, housing
issues in the San Antonio area. He’s involved with the Pan-American Progressive Association
in Texas, this launches his career in progressive politics. In 1956 he becomes the first Mexican
American elected to the Texas Senate, twice he filibustered measures in the Texas Senate
that would have re-segregated Texas public schools. That earned him a lot of national
attention. A great quote in Time magazine we came across: “It may be some can chloroform
their conscience, but if we fear long enough we hate, and if we hate long enough we fight.”
He runs for governor in the late 1950’s in Texas. He’s trounced, but it gets him
name recognition and he becomes a viable candidate for a special election in 1961 in a San Antonio
district, and he comes into the House, and he serves in the House for nearly four decades.
Best known for his service on the House Banking Committee, he chaired it in the late 1980’s
and early 1990’s, passed a lot of important housing and banking reform. Critic of the
big banks, and also a proponent for many years of opening up the rather secretive Fed to
greater transparency. One other individual I want to point out is
Ed Roy Ball from California. A lot like Gonzales in terms of coming up through grass roots
politics. He was one of the co-founders of a community service organization in California,
a statewide organization that pushed Hispanic interests. He’s elected to the L.A. city
council in 1949. He’s the first Mexican American to serve on the L.A. council since
the 1880’s. His welcome was a little rough, but he fit in, and was very important in terms
of a lot of programs that opened city programs and housing to Hispanic Americans, a growing
population in east Los Angeles. He was elected to the House in 1962 and served thirty years,
and again he rises to a very high position in Congress. He becomes one of the Appropriation
cardinals, chairing the Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government Subcommittee.
And I want to end here briefly by talking about the last period in the book, which is
post-1977. This is the main page of the website, where the entire book is available online.
This chapter we titled “Strength in Numbers and Challenges in Diversity,” and starts
really with the creation of the Hispanic Caucus in late 1976. Five members including Roy Ball
and Gonzales establish the caucus as a legislative service organization that would follow, track,
and influence policy affected America’s Hispanic community.
But unlike other Congressional caucuses, over time the diversity of the caucus somewhat
limited its legislative effectiveness. It was open to members from both parties; its
roster included members from across the country; there were competing regional interests at
work that made the caucus act oftentimes more like an information clearing house than a
legislative vehicle for moving legislation through Congress. Regional differences often
splintered the caucus. Hispanic American members were divided, for instance, in the 1980’s
on immigration reform, and also on trade policy in the 1990’s such as NAFTA.
Perhaps the most striking feature of this era is simply the numbers game that’s going
on. The Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of the 1960’s and court ordered re-districting
which began in the 60’s, opened new avenues of political participation for millions of
Hispanic Americans. Voting Rights Act particularly in its extensions profoundly changed the face
of Congress in terms of African Americans, but also in terms of Hispanics. In the case
of the latter, two thirds of all the Hispanics who have ever served in Congress were elected
after 1976. So, that’s a tremendous growth. We are now up to 102 Hispanic members who
have served in Congress. In 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was passed, there were just
5 Hispanic members of Congress—4 representatives and a senator. In the 113th Congress, there
are now 33 total—30 in the House and three in the Senate. So the numbers have gone up,
these members have also chaired powerful committees and subcommittees, authored important legislation;
they’ve been party leaders; they’ve directed national party organizations: Mel Martinez,
former Senator; and they have held cabinet positions: Hilda Solis and Mel Martinez.
Indeed as this Hispanic population in the U.S. has grown from 6% in 1980 to 16% according
to the 2010 census, and as their advocates win powerful seats at the federal level, Hispanic
Americans become one of the most influential voting blocs in the country. But gaining that
representation has never been easy and likely won’t ever be easy or simple or straightforward.
The experiences of the Hispanic members in that post-1977 period illustrate very clearly
that there is no one person or caucus who can drive the agenda or can determine the
needs and desires and aspirations of all Hispanic American voters, and this was very clear after
the emergence of a separate Congressional Hispanic conference, which was composed of
Republicans in the early 2000’s. The caucus began to break over Cuba policy. And so now
there is a Hispanic Caucus and a Hispanic Conference and they are divided in a partisan
fashion. This is perhaps the clearest sign that political debate is alive and well in
that community, but regardless, based on this long history, there obviously is much inspiration
that Hispanics members and those who study them can draw from the rich history and the
hard-won victories over the years. We have fifteen minutes left for questions,
and I’d be happy to answer any. And raise your hand so we can pass the mic,
so we can pick it up on the video. So, just out of curiosity, how did you guys
define Hispanic for purposes of inclusion in this volume, was there a specific definition
or like a know-it-when-you-see-it? We relied on the Hispanic Division at the
Library of Congress, which polls new members of Congress as to whether they identify themselves
as Hispanic. The interesting thing is that in the 1970’s, well in the 1980’s it gets
a little bit more complicated, because Tony Coelho of California, who’s of Portuguese
decent, lobbies to get on the Hispanic caucus, and actually goes back to the Roman definition
of Hispanola, and claims that Portugal is part of the, that area, that would have been
referred to as Hispanic. There are a couple members who come to his aid, Bill Richardson
from New Mexico, and he’s allowed onto the caucus, but it kind of created a problem in
later years because there’s actually been, probably a dozen members of Portuguese decent,
if not more, who’ve been elected since then, and it’s a matter of whether they identify
as being Hispanic or not. Some do, some don’t. So we really relied on the Library of Congress.
Another question that we had very early on was: you have the Philippine Resident Commissioners,
from the early twentieth century, and many of them have Hispanic surnames, almost all
of them have Hispanic surnames. But in working with the Library of Congress Asia Division
and Hispanic Division, we bowed to cultural preferences, and we are told that the Filipinos
regard themselves as Asian/Pacific Islander, and so they will be in that book, and that—so
we really relied on the guidance of the library’s divisions on that point. But it’s trickier
than obviously, than, women or African Americans. You can get on a slippery slope of cultural
preference. And the book itself, we’ve also been asked, I should add, Latino or Hispanic?
Well, we use the term Latino/Latina in the text itself—the title of the book was passed
by congressional resolution, and it was the title that the Hispanic Caucus wanted in introducing
the legislation, so that’s the title that we went with. And Hispanic is also the census
term, still used by the federal government. With regards to the need for translators,
you mentioned that a lot of the translators were from the east, and therefore, I’m finding
this also occurred in New Mexico, obviously, but in southern Colorado. Those Hispanic representatives
had no English background, and the territory of Colorado would not pay for the translator.
So then, they also had translators from the East come, but then there were differences
in political language that those translators couldn’t help them with. Could you tell
me when the government then started paying for translators?
We don’t know that the government ever paid for translators for Gallegos. We, based on
anecdotal stories that we had come across, that he was relying on the friendship that
he’s struck up, in particular with Missouri representatives, who were bilingual. And we
don’t, he wasn’t, it didn’t appear that he was paying for it, or not in any way that
we could track, out of any House fund like Clerk disbursement reports or anything like
that. He may have been paying for it out of pocket, but it’s hard to know.
Now what do you think, what are your thoughts on translator from the east versus maybe even
a Hispano who had served on in prior legislatures? What’s my thought about… is there a disconnect?
Yes. Uhuh, I mean, did these legislatures, did these translators have to go through some
kind of a litmus test? I don’t know. I would imagine Gallegos,
would—Gallegos in particular, and he was the one who relied on the translator in this
time period, although there were other, the Puerto Rican Resident Commissioners, Luis
Munoz Rivera, he wasn’t fluent in English either, but he studied while he was here,
so he had a tutor. But again, there’s no record of him ever appealing to the House
for a translator or ever paying for a translation out of his office allowance, at least not
that we are able to track. But someone in Gallegos’ position, who was very familiar
with territorial politics under two different national regimes, I think would probably be
savvy enough to overcome differences in translations. I also have a question on Weights and Measures
Committee. You said that the House allowed the territories to serve, allowed the territorial
delegates to serve on the committee? What year was that?
1871. 1871. Okay.
Yes, in the House rolls, and that was the one specific committee that they could serve
on for about two decades, and then the committees are opened up a bit. After a while they can
serve on the territories committee, and after that there’s another liberalization that
opens it up later in the twentieth century. But for a while it’s very circumscribed.
I don’t have a specific question on weights and measures, during this time period, for
the government, but in Colorado Territory, during the 1860’s, they are changing weights
and measures so that they are no longer—southern Colorado could no longer use the Spanish variants.
And the same thing, no doubt, in New Mexico as well.Yeah. Was that the Conejos?
Conejos and Costilla counties, yeah. Herufano country, El Paso county.
Any other questions? I just have a sort of general question. In
the process of doing the third volume, as you get later have you had much, or any, or
very much overlap in women and African Americans, or you know, between the three volumes, and
if so, how has that, sort of, changed the way that you’ve talked about the individuals,
or has it? Sure. In some aspects, the Hispanic Caucus
and the Black Caucus do team up in the 1980’s on certain issues, not so much the Women’s
Caucus. So I can’t say that it’s really changed the way that we’ve approached the
book. The storylines in that regard, I mean they cross in terms of party association more
than in terms of caucus one way or another. But there are these, again, and I mentioned
it in the beginning, there are these very clear patterns of how each of these groups
that are introduced to the political process integrate into the institution and it may
take many more years in one case for one group for one stage, but they’re three very clear
stages. And, for instance, for women for a very long time, women the early women members
of Congress from Jeanette Rankin up to World War II, very purposefully, with the exception
of Rankin, did not embrace what you would call a women’s rights agenda. In fact they
tried to minimize gender distinctions, and they felt that that was the best way to, kind
of work their way into the hierarchy. And it’s really the kind of the same way with
the Spanish American members, up until Chavez and the post-World War II period. But there’s
always the tension of the degree to which you are going to act as a surrogate representative.
Henry Gonzales was a co-founder of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in late 76, but he is so turned
off by activists, particularly La Raza which attacked him in the late 60’s and early
70’s, that he questions a lot of the questions that are used by activists, and he eventually
questions the legislative agenda that he caucus moves towards in the 80’s. To the point
where, at some point in the 1980’s, we don’t know exactly when, he stopped paying his dues,
and he’s no longer on the caucus records. And there’s absolutely—we’ve yet to
find the press article that says, “Today Henry Gonzales left the Hispanic caucus.”
But we know he just, he lost interest. So, that’s a story that’s familiar with women,
too. It’s not, they are not a monolithic bloc. So there are those similarities, but
I’d say those are more kind of general ways in which these individuals interacted with
the institution. And in fact, the story of the caucuses interacting with each other—there’s
not so much there. So. In the 1850’s, you mentioned, Gallegos had
no experience with the American political system. So can you talk about what political
system they were working with? Well, he was coming, he came straight out
of New Mexican politics when New Mexico was a province of Mexico, so-
Excuse me, and my real question is how difficult was the difference in changing for them? From
the American political system- I think he wasn’t familiar with the national
Democratic party, and the Democratic party in New Mexico had its own kind of policy agendas.
There’s a great book that talks about this. Howard Lamar, which talks about politics in
the Southwest. He focuses on New Mexico. But to make that leap from territorial politics
to the national democratic agenda I think was tough for him. The Governor of the territory
at that point I think was a guy by the name of David Meriwether, who was a longtime democratic
politician from back East, and he served as something of a tutor for Gallegos; Gallegos
came and consulted him, and we know this because Meriwether records it in his memoirs. So,
but I think once you got him into a legislative environment, he understood how things worked
here in D.C. He certainly knew who the two key committee chairs were, and he was convincing
enough to get them to go onto the floor and argue on his behalf, even though it didn’t
work. But there are parts of the story that, you know, it’s, we really have to there’s
a lot of gaps to the story. One more question. The difference between
English law and then Spanish or Mexican law. That they had to work through. What might
they have encountered with that? That’s really a kind of a territorial transition,
you know, question, and I’m not so familiar with how to answer that. I mean it’s-
I think some of the justices had to work with that, that were in the territories.
The court justices that, yeah? Well, I believe our time has about expired.
Thank you Matt for that splendid presentation, and let’s give him a round of applause.
Thank you.

About the Author: Michael Flood

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