There is an often-repeated error in the news media that says that Mayra Flores (R-TX) is the first Mexican-born naturalized citizen “ever elected to Congress.” The Irene Armendariz-Jackson Campaign perpetuated this error in their newsletter they sent out on August 9. [1] Armendariz-Jackson is running against Veronica Escobar on the Republican ticket in the November elections. In June 2022, Mayra Flores became only the second Republican to represent the Rio Grande Valley after flipping the seat in a Special Election. Flores won by embracing the far-right rhetoric of Donald J. Trump. Flores was born in Tamaulipas, México [2] leading to the erroneous narrative that she is the first Mexican-born member of Congress. Flores herself perpetuated this falsehood on June 15, 2022, on her Twitter account.

Screen capture of Flores’ Twitter post.

The fact is that Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo (R-NM) was the first member of Congress to be born in México. He became a naturalized citizen and was elected to Congress after starting his political career in El Paso. [3] Congress is composed of the Senators and the members of the House of Representatives.

Larrazolo was born on December 7, 1859, in El Valle de Allende, Chihuahua, México. Larrazolo built his “political career around his persistent defense of Hispanic civil rights.” The future senator taught school in San Elizario after immigrating to the United States as a child. He became a U.S. citizen on December 11, 1884. [4]

While living in El Paso and studying for law school, Larrazolo worked as a farmer. After marrying in El Paso, Larrazolo moved to a farmhouse in San Elizario until he was elected to his first political office. [5] As a Democrat, in 1886, Larrazolo won the clerkship of El Paso’s district court and was reelected in 1888. In 1890 and in 1892, Larrazolo was elected as the district attorney for Texas’ 34th Judicial District. [6]

After Larrazolo completed his second term as the district attorney, he moved to Las Vegas, New Mexico where he opened a law office. Although Larrazolo ran as a Democrat in El Paso, he became a Republican in New Mexico because the Democrats in New Mexico refused to support Hispanics candidates. Although the Republicans were no better towards Latinos, according to Larrazolo, he was nonetheless nominated by the Republicans in 1918 for New Mexico governor. Larrazolo served as the governor of New Mexico from 1919 to 1921. After the governorship, Larrazolo returned to El Paso to practice law, returning to New Mexico two years later. [7]

In 1928, Larrazolo was nominated to run for the Senate seat for New Mexico. He won the seat with 56% of the vote. He was sworn in on December 7, 1928, making him the first Hispanic senator and Mexican born member of Congress. Larrazolo’s Senate term ended in March 1930 due to illness and on April 7, 1930, Larrazolo passed in New Mexico. [8]

In 2019, there were 29 members of Congress that were born outside of the country. Of the 29, 13 members in the House and one in the Senate are naturalized citizens. All are Democrats. Of the 13, Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL) was born in México. [9] García was born in Durango. [10] In addition to García, two other members of Congress were born in México. They are Salud Carbajal (D-CA) and Raul Ruiz (D-CA).

In addition to Larrazolo, there have been at least three other members of Congress in the past who were also born in México. They are Carlos Bee (D-TX), Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) and Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX). [11]

Mayra Flores is not the first Mexican-born member of Congress, but she is the first woman born in México to be elected to Congress.

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Footnotes:

  1. Irene Armendariz Campaign For Congress Newsletter sent to author on August 9, 2022.
  2. Jennifer Medina, “The Rise of the Far-Right Latina,” The New York Times, July 6, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/06/us/politics/mayra-flores-latina-republicans.html.
  3. The United States House of Representatives, History, Art & Archives website accessed on August 9, 2022, https://history.house.gov/People/Detail/15032401304.
  4. The United States House of Representatives, History, Art & Archives website accessed on August 9, 2022, https://history.house.gov/People/Detail/15032401304.
  5. “New Mexico Governor A Former El Pasoan,” El Paso Herald, January 1, 1919, 1.
  6. The United States House of Representatives, History, Art & Archives website accessed on August 9, 2022, https://history.house.gov/People/Detail/15032401304.
  7. The United States House of Representatives, History, Art & Archives website accessed on August 9, 2022, https://history.house.gov/People/Detail/15032401304.
  8. The United States House of Representatives, History, Art & Archives website accessed on August 9, 2022, https://history.house.gov/People/Detail/15032401304.
  9. Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Lola Fadulu, “5% of Congress Was Born Abroad. Those Members Show What It Means to Be American,” The New York Times, July 16, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/16/us/politics/foreign-born-congress-trump.html.
  10. Jesús García Campaign website accessed on August 9, 2022, https://chuyforcongress.com/about.
  11. U.S Congress Biographical Directory.

Martin Paredes

Reporting on public corruption, border politics, immigration and public policy in El Paso since 2000.