The U.S. Senator Dennis Chavez
Endowed Lecture on Law & Civil Rights
A new lecture and symposium series established through the generosity of the Dennis Chavez Foundation and the late senator’s family to celebrate and keep alive the extraordinary legacy of Dennis Chavez, a populist from Albuquerque’s South Valley who rose to become a nationally renowned U.S. senator during the mid-20th century.
Paying Tribute to a Trailblazer (2011)
Judge Mary H. Murguia
On October 20, 2011, the Honorable Mary H. Murguia of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals presented the first U.S. Sen. Dennis Chavez Endowed Lecture on Law & Civil Rights. The title was, "Paying Tribute to a Trailblazer: Why Senator Chavez's Vision of Civil Rights Matters Today." Judge Murguia joined the 9th Circuit court in January 2011, after serving for 10 years on the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. When appointed in 2000, she became the first Latina to serve on the federal bench in Arizona.
A UNM School of Law news story of the lecture can be read here.
EYE ON NEW MEXICO
Sen. Dennis Chavez relatives talk about the senator's legacy on Eye on New Mexico, KOB-TV, Oct. 9, 2011.
Video of the show can be viewed here.
In Fall 2009, the Dennis Chavez Foundation and its representatives, Gloria C. Tristani, Jorge E. Tristani, Jr., and Gloria M. Tristani (`90), established an endowment for a lectureship/symposium on Law and Civil Rights, designed to promote awareness and academic discourse of U.S. Senator Dennis Chavez and topics related to his legacy and life's work.
A gift of $100,000 created the opportunity to invite preeminent scholars to deliver an annual public lecture on Law and Civil Rights, the life work of Senator Dennis Chavez or related topics of human rights, equal opportunity, Hispanics and New Mexico in government, law and politics and their impact on human welfare.
Dennis Chavez grew up the Barelas neighborhood of Albuquerque in a Spanish-speaking household in the late 1800s. It was during those early years that he developed an internal foundation that would drive him and guide him for the rest of his life.
The second oldest of eight children, Chavez left school at 13 to help support the family. During his six-day-a-week job delivering groceries for Highland Grocery Store, he witnessed disturbing inequities in class and race. His time off was spent at the public library immersing himself in U.S. history.
Before he could vote, Chavez became involved with the Democratic Party. His exceptional ability to communicate with the state's Spanish-speaking voters so impressed A.A. Jones during his 1916 U.S. senatorial campaign that Sen. Jones invited Chavez to join his Washington, D.C. staff. Determined to become a lawyer, Chavez took evening law classes at Georgetown Law School and earned his law degree in 1920, spending his days on Capitol Hill.
Chavez returned to Albuquerque to set up a law practice, but his future was in the political arena. After one term in the New Mexico Legislature, he served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1935, he became the only Hispanic in the U.S. Senate, where he served until his death in 1962, establishing himself as an advocate of civil and human rights.
Chavez also was concerned with the development of resources in the West. He actively supported measures such as water and soil conservation programs and rural electrification. He introduced many bills to protect Indian lands, citizenship, voting rights and self determination.
Chavez conferred with every president from Hoover to Kennedy, and ultimately became one of the most powerful members of Congress, but when he returned home to New Mexico, he always delighted in the opportunity to visit with his constituents. And he never forgot his humble roots.