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.
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 Chaves 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.
Visit the Dennis Chavez Foundation. 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 was elected to the New Mexico state legislature, but he did not seek another term. In 1930, he was elected to New Mexico's one statewide seat in the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat, and was re-elected in 1932. Chavez served as chairman of the House Committee on Indian Affairs.
Chavez was the Democratic Party nominee for U.S. Senator from New Mexico in 1934, and became the first person of Hispanic descent to be elected to an entire six year term as a U.S. Senator. (Octaviano Larrazolo was the first Hispanic to be elected to the U.S. Senate, but he was only elected to a remainder of an unexpired term.) Chavez was re-elected in 1940, 1946, 1952, and 1958, and served till his death in 1962.
Chavez died on November 18, 1962 in Washington D.C., and was buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Albuquerque. 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. 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 was honored by the United States Postal Service with a 35¢ Great Americans series (1980–2000) postage stamp.
A granddaughter, Gloria Tristani, followed in public service, serving as chair of the New Mexico State Corporations Commission in 1996, as 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.