Octaviano Larrazolo was the first Hispanic to serve in the United States Senate. He was born on December 7, 1859 in Allende in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, where he lived until he was eleven years old. In 1870 J.B. Salpoint, a French-born Bishop of Arizona, took Octaviano to Arizona and instructed him in theology. In 1875, when Reverend Salpoint moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, Octaviano accompanied him, and completed his studies at St. Michael’s College in Santa Fe in 1875.

Unsure about his future, he briefly considered joining the priesthood before he accepted a teaching position in San Elizario, Texas. Fluent in English and Spanish, Larrazolo taught during the day and studied law at night. In preparation for a legal career, Larrazolo became a U.S. citizen on December 11, 1884, and registered with Texas’ Democratic Party. In 1885 he was appointed clerk of the U.S. District and Circuit Courts for the Western District of Texas. He married Rosalia Cobos in 1881, and they had two sons, Juan Bautista and José Maria, and a daughter, Rosalia. His wife died in 1891, the day after their daughter was born, and the following year Larrazolo married María Garcia, with whom he had nine children: Octaviano Ambrosio, Josefina, Carlos G., Luis Fernando, Heliodoro A., Maria, Justiniano Santiago, Pablo Frederico, and Rafael E.

Larrazolo’s interests in politics led him to become active in the Democratic Party. As a result, in 1885 Larrazolo was appointed clerk of the U.S. District and Circuit Courts at El Paso. In 1886 he was elected clerk of the 34th District Court at El Paso and he was reelected in 1888. While he worked as a court clerk, he studied law with one of the judges and he was admitted to the Texas bar in 1888. Two years later he was elected state attorney for Texas’ Western District; he subsequently was reelected for one more term. Larrazolo was first a Democrat in Texas, but when he moved into the political world of New Mexico (where the majority of Hispanos favored the Republican Party), it led to greater things—including becoming governor and eventually U.S. senator. In essence, Larrazolo aligned himself with the mostly Anglo Democrats, but when he realized that his voice was not being heard, he thought it would be best that to become a Republican, even though many Republicans were very wary of him.

Abandoned by Democrats and a perennial target for Republicans, Larrazolo began to set his own course. In 1910, as he stumped in favor of New Mexico’s constitution, Larrazolo attacked the machine politics that he felt were exploiting Hispanic voters across the state. “I do not believe that it is the duty of a citizen to surrender his conscience to any man or any set of men, or to any party of any name,” he said. “If it is true that there are bosses over you and you are not free,” he told his listeners, “you … have allowed yourselves to be controlled by other men but you will be controlled by bosses only as long as you permit the yoke to rest on you.” Larrazolo asked if New Mexico would approve a constitution guaranteeing civil protections, or whether Hispanic New Mexicans would essentially “remain in slavery.” Larrazolo seemed to sense that New Mexico was dangerously close to following the lead of the American South, where Jim Crow laws had systematically stripped African Americans of their rights in the half-century since congressional Reconstruction. “Every native citizen must unite in supporting this constitution because it secures to you people of New Mexico your rights—every one of them; the rights also of your children and in such a manner that they can never be taken away,” he continued. It was imperative that Hispanics support the constitution, he told them, “if you want to acquire your freedom and transmit this sacred heritage in the land hallowed by the blood of your forefathers who fought to protect it.” “Do not wait until you are put in the position of Arizona which in two years will be able to disfranchise every Spanish speaking citizen.” Larrazolo feared that without voting rights, Hispanic landowners would be forced to sell out to the railroad.

In 1918 Larrazolo was elected Governor of New Mexico. While in office he enacted laws that created the Girls’ Welfare Home, the Child Welfare Board, and the State Health Board. A point of contention between the Republican Party and Larrazolo was his position on the income tax bill. In his effort to strengthen the income tax law, he lost support from Republicans. He also supported the women’s suffrage amendment. This alienated both Republicans and some of his Hispanic supporters. In 1922 the Republican Party did not re-nominate him for governor.

In 1928 Larrazolo was elected to fill the unexpired term of Democratic Senator Andieus A. Jones, who had died in office. While in the Senate, Larrazolo served on the Agriculture and Forestry Committee, Public Surveying Committee, and the Territories and Insular Affairs Committees. He fell ill and served only six months before he returned to Albuquerque where he died on April 7, 1930.

Read more at house.gov-Larrazolo