Senator Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo

Staff Writer
Runnels County Register
In 1928 Mexican-born Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo became the first Hispanic American to serve in the U.S. Senate.

In 1928 Mexican-born Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo became the first Hispanic American to serve in the U.S. Senate when he was elected to complete the unexpired term of New Mexico senator Andrieus A. Jones. Dennis Chavez, the first American-born Hispanic senator, occupied the same New Mexico Senate seat from 1935 to 1962. The third Hispanic American to serve in the Senate was Joseph M. Montoya, who also represented the state of New Mexico, from 1964 to 1977. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada are currently serving in the Senate, and represent the growing ethnic diversity in the U.S. Congress.

Larrazolo had previously been the 4th governor of New Mexico, from January 1, 1919 to January 1, 1921.He was born in Valle de Allende, Mexico on December 7, 1859. Larrazolo was born in Valle de Allende in Chihuahua, Mexico, on December 7, 1859, to Don Octaviano, a wealthy landowner, and Doña Donaciana Corral de Larrazolo. He was brought up in a wealthy home and was taught to read and write in his home; he later briefly attended school in his town but left after his schoolteacher beat him.

In 1870 at the age of eleven, Larrazolo left Mexico for Tucson, Arizona Territory, under the care of Jean Salpointe, a French-born bishop of Arizona. Larrazolo left with the bishop because he intended to study theology to become a priest and because his family had fallen into bankruptcy and could not support his schooling. After completing his primary studies with the bishop, Larrazolo studied theology at the St. Michael's College at Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory, graduating in 1876 at the age of 18. He considered entering the priesthood right after his graduation but secured a teaching position instead; he later also taught in El Paso County, Texas. During this time, he started studying law; he taught in the day and studied law at night. On December 11, 1884, Larrazolo became a U.S. citizen in order to prepare himself to become a lawyer. In this same year, he registered with the Texas State Republican Party.

His popularity throughout New Mexico caused the New Mexico Republican party to nominate him for governor of New Mexico. The campaign in 1918, though, was an intense one that exposed some factions within the Hispanic community. His Democratic opponent, Félix García, claimed that Larrazolo's birth in Chihuahua precluded him from understanding the concerns of "native New Mexicans." He was elected Governor of the State of New Mexico in 1918, becoming the first Mexican-born Latino to be governor of New Mexico. Larrazolo's narrow victory, however, seemed to quiet most of the debate about whether he could authentically advocate on behalf of the Spanish-speaking population. Throughout his time as governor, he had various controversies and successes. In the first year of his term, he declared martial law in the state to suppress a coal mining strike. In the time the fear of anarchism was rampant and this plus the gravity of the strike convinced Larrazolo to declare martial law. He was also criticized for pardoning Mexican troops who raided parts of New Mexico with Pancho Villa. He believed that since the Mexican troops were acting under orders from their superior that they should not be held accountable. He also supported and signed a new income tax law that angered his Republican party. The aspects that he won praise for was his support for the creation of the League of Nations. Larrazolo advocated for bilingual education and supported the civil rights of Mexican immigrants in the state. He was also a supporter of the women's suffrage amendment to the United States Constitution.

Larrazolo was elected in 1927 to the New Mexico State House of Representatives. But then in 1927, the Democratic U.S. Senator from New Mexico Andrieus Jones died and Larrazolo ran and on 6 November 1928 won for Jones's remaining term. This made Larrazolo the first Mexican-American to serve in the U.S. Senate.

The information in the story above was compiled from US Senate files, Wikipedia and other publications.