Dennis (Dionisio) Chávez had his work cut out for him in 1935 as the first U.S.–born Latino senator.
As the only member of a minority in the Senate, he faced uphill battles for Native American land and water rights, water rights within the Southwestern states, anti-segregation legislation, civil rights, and many other worthy but thorny social issues. This Democrat from New Mexico, who grew up as a poor, monolingual, Spanish-speaking farm boy, felt strongly that bullies had no place in government. On May 12, 1950, in a speech from the Senate floor that would be heard around the world, he took on Sen. Joe McCarthy and his divisive agenda, declaring that he could not “sit idly by, silent, during a period which may go down in history as an era when we permitted the curtailment of our liberties.” He served from 1935 to 1962 and never gave up fighting against discrimination. Today his statue stands among those of other illustrious Americans in the U.S. Capitol. This biography written by Chávez’s granddaughter, bound together with Baeza Ventura’s Spanish translation of it, will be particularly welcome in these challenging times. It’s unfortunate that lack of clarity in timeline may contribute to mental whiplash, as readers are repeatedly yanked back and forth in time throughout the book.
Quibble aside, the historically notable achievements of this great but nearly forgotten American qualify this title as a must-read. (Biography. 8-12)