Hispanic Heritage Month: Dennis Chavez

Hidden History

From birth and his humble beginnings in Los Chavez, New Mexico — Dionisio Chavez — or “Dennis” as he would later be known — didn’t let any obstacle stand in his way when it came to achieving his life goals.

Historian: I don’t think he attended high school because he went to work at a grocery store to help support his family, and the next thing I know, he’s at Georgetown Law School

Finding the time to study at night — Chavez went on to earn his law degree and open a practice in Albuquerque. Taking on cases where he defended the working class in labor issues — that was part of the spark which led to his pursuit of a career in politics that led him all the way to the Nation’s Capitol, becoming the first US-born Hispanic elected to the Senate.

Historian: I remember they used to call him, instead of Chavez, “Shavez,” which reflects the fact that nobody knew Spanish in those days.

It wasn’t long before the pioneering senator was making a name for himself, championing the cause for other minorities across the country. Being ahead of his time meant establishing a path that may not have always been popular, but it was always something important to how he lead and lived.

Historian: I like to say, he never became rich from being powerful. He didn’t become a millionaire senator like a lot of people in power–all of a sudden, they’re very rich. So he stayed very true to his roots and I think he was really into service, into serving people. It wasn’t just a name,–he really was into helping people out.

Chavez’s granddaughter was also a pioneer as one of the first Hispanic women to serve on the FCC.

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