Tales from New Mexico: The Politics of Language

The ability to speak Spanish played an important role in a candidate’s appeal to voters in Northern New Mexico during the New Deal. Syndicated columnist Drew Pearson shared a humorous antidote from Senator Dennis Chavez’s 1946 campaign.

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Down in New Mexico, a battle of the languages is going on between Patrick J. Hurley, Hoover’s ex-secretary of war, and Senator Dennis Chavez in their race for the U.S. Senate.

To appeal to New Mexican voters it is almost essential to speak Spanish. New Mexico courts, for instance, are bilingual, with both Spanish and English official.

Senator Chavez, of course, is equally at home with either language. Hurley is not. However, Chavez has pulled a new trick on the ex-Oklahoman.

“You want somebody in Washington that speaks your language,” Chavez tells his audiences. “But I want you to know that I also speak Pat’s.”

Whereupon, Chavez proceeds to recite the Lord’s Prayer and Ave Maria in Gaelic.

Pat Hurley, of course, while making a play of being Irish in Catholic New Mexico, speaks not one word of Gaelic.

Note—At one time, Pat did not make such a great show of being Irish. His father was born O’Hurley, and kept that name all through his life. His son found that being Irish was no political asset in Oklahoma, and dropped the “O.”

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