Louisianians (or Luisianeses) and Their Hill Documents Featured in Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-2012
A recent publication by the U.S. Government Printing Office offers further glimpses into how Louisiana and its citizens (Luisiana and Luisianeses in Spanish) have figured in the Hispanic contribution to American history. The third volume in a series on women and minorities who have served in the House and the Senate, Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-2012 was published by the U.S. House of Representatives, Office of the Historian and Office of the Clerk, toward the end of 2013. Deriving part of its vast amount of information from two collections housed at LSU Special Collections, the reference book presents biographical profiles of 91 Hispanic members of Congress in chronological order through 2012. Along with an introduction and appendices, four general essays set various periods of Congressional service in historical context: the era of U.S. continental expansion (1822-1898), the age of U.S. colonialism and global expansion (1898-1945), the Civil Rights era (1945-1977), and recent legislative trends and power sharing among Hispanic Americans in Congress (1977-2012).
Among the 91 Hispanic members of Congress examined in the study, two hail from Louisiana: Ladislas “Doc” Lazaro (1872-1927) and Joachim Octave “Joe” Fernández (1896-1978). In compiling the essay on the former, editors drew heavily from LSU’s Ladislas Lazaro Papers (Mss. 1113, 1149). For the latter, they quoted from a Paul Maloney oral-history interview in the T. Harry Williams Papers (Mss. 2489, 2510), which is also in LSU’s Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections.
As only the second Hispanic representative in Congress (after Californian Romualdo Pacheco, who served from 1879 to 1883), Lazaro was also only the second Hispanic member eligible to chair a committee. Born on the family plantation near Ville Platte, Lazaro descended on his mother’s side from the Ortegos, one of Ville Platte’s founding Hispanic families. After attending the forerunner of Holy Cross High School in New Orleans, he graduated from Louisville Medical College (Kentucky) in 1894. “Doc” Lazaro practiced medicine in Washington, Louisiana, and was chosen by his colleagues to serve as first vice president of the state medical society in 1907. A Democrat, he was propelled into national office in 1912 as a supporter of Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive platform. Serving as U.S. representative from 1913 to 1927, Lazaro tended to the agricultural interests of his Louisiana district, focusing on protective tariffs and improving farmers’ access to markets through waterway and railway projects. Lazaro advocated for the completion of the Intracoastal Waterway, voted against Prohibition, and opposed a string of measures granting women the right to vote on the grounds that states would be yielding too much power to the Federal Government in the process. By the early 1920s, he was the longest-serving Hispanic member of Congress to that point. Late in the 69th Congress (1925-1927), Lazaro died of complications from an abscess following abdominal surgery. Hispanic Americans in Congress draws considerable information for the Lazaro article from speeches, campaign pamphlets, and letters in LSU’s Ladislas Lazaro Papers.
Native New Orleanian “Joe” Fernández was the grandson of a Spanish immigrant merchant and son of Octave Gonzales Fernández, who served in the Louisiana State House of Representatives and died in office in 1921. Attending neither high school nor college, Fernández worked as an expert on shipping fees and storage tariffs. The same year as his father’s death, he was elected to the Louisiana State Constitutional Convention. He then won election to the Louisiana Legislature, serving for much of the 1920s. Endorsed initially by the New Orleans Democratic machine, Fernández switched his allegiance to Huey Long in 1930. He served as U.S. representative from 1931 to 1941, his workload centered on assisting individuals with issues such as pension adjustments, benefits, and military discharges. He also concentrated on acquiring land for local projects involving levees, bridges, streets, and public buildings. Throughout the 1930s, he introduced a series of bills to establish the Chalmette National Historical Park and sought to revive the Algiers Naval Station. His political career having become intertwined with that of Huey Long, it began to decline following the Kingfish’s assassination in 1935. After leaving Congress in January 1941, Fernández served in active duty as a U.S. Naval Reserve lieutenant commander until 1943. Following retirement from politics, Fernández worked as a tax consultant and passed away in New Orleans shortly before his eighty-second birthday.
Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-2012 was launched as a web exhibition at http://history.house.gov/ that is current through the present Congress. The online exhibit includes the additional 11 Hispanic-American representatives and senators who reported to Capitol Hill for the 113th Congress, and it will be updated to reflect future changes. Hispanic Americans in Congress is available through the U.S. Government Printing Office, which will produce a free, downloadable e-book version from its site within the month.