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10 Things to Know About Hispanics in Congress

National Statuary Hall from the North, US Capitol, Washington, DC Architect of the Capitol

Why is the late Texas Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez on the cover of a book released Tuesday by the U.S. House of Representatives? How many Hispanics have served in Congress over the years? How many have been senators?

The U.S. House has answers to those questions in “Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-2012,” one in a series of books produced by the House to highlight the contributions of women and minorities to Congress. The book contains lesson plans and interactive features. An e-book is due out soon. Meanwhile, here are a few facts drawn from the web exhibit created by the House’s Office of Historian to go with the book’s release:

  1. Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, a Democrat from Texas, was the longest serving Hispanic in Congress, serving 37 years in the House.
  2. Seventeen of the first 25 members of Congress _ 68 percent through the end of WWII _ represented territorial possessions.
  3. Hispanics have consistently served in Congress since the mid-1800s, compared to African Americans, who were not present from 1901 to 1929.
  4. Florida Delegate Joseph Hernández, sworn into the House in January of 1823, was the first Hispanic member of Congress and first Territorial Delegate to represent Florida. He was a slave owner and fought against blacks and Seminoles in the Second Seminole War.
  5. Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo, R-N.M. was the first Hispanic elected to the Senate in 1928. He was an immigrant from Chihuahua, Mexico. Seven Hispanics have served in the U.S. Senate.
  6. Dennis Chavez of New Mexico was the first Hispanic Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in 1931. He ran for the seat and lost by 1,284 votes, an outcome he challenged. But he was appointed to fill the seat after the incumbent was killed in a plane crash, and went on to serve 31 years.
  7. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., was the first Cuban American to serve in the Senate in 2005.
  8. Sixty percent of Hispanics elected to Congress through August 2012 (54 individuals), were elected in 1976 or later.
  9. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., was the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress in 1988. She is an immigrant born in Havana, Cuba.
  10. The numbers of Hispanics in Congress remains disproportionately less than their percentage of the U.S. population.