The first Hispanic American to be elected to the United States Senate, Democrat Dennis Chavez had a long and distinguished career in government service, first as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and then as a senator from the state of New Mexico. Chavez was a strong supporter of education and civil rights.
Chavez earned the nickname "Puerto Rico's Senator" in 1942 when he started an investigation into the causes of poor social and economic conditions in Puerto Rico. His support of a bill to improve living conditions and attract industry to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands was important in helping it pass when it was put to a vote in the Senate. He also attracted national attention during his long fight for the creation of a federal Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). The bill was designed to protect workers from discrimination (unequal treatment) on the basis of race, religion, or national origin by employers or labor unions doing governmental work. The bill was eventually defeated in 1946—by only an eight-vote margin.
Dennis Chavez was the only national Hispanic American elected official of his time. He worked tirelessly to further the interests of defending the oppressed. The pioneering spirit in Dennis Chavez's family continued through the next generations.
Chavez's granddaughter, Gloria Tristani, was one of the first female Hispanic commissioners to serve on the Federal Communications Commission.
“We cannot have [the country] divided. We cannot have one country for the South and another country for the other States of the United States.”
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