Presidents and their political parties used the position of postmaster as a political reward prior to it becoming integrated into the civil service system. The first Latino to head a post office in a city of significant size and import was Hilario Delgado in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He served from 1929 to 1934.
Politics drove Delgado’s rise and fall in the postal service. He was, by all accounts, a dedicated public servant and outstanding accountant. The Republican Party nominated him for state auditor, a statewide constitutional officer, in 1922. He was also a World War I hero and community leader, having served with distinction in France. He enjoyed a statewide network as vice commander of the inchoate and politically potent American Legion in New Mexico.
The largest newspaper in the capital city supported his 1922 campaign with gusto. Its enthusiasm practically jumps off the page: “The New Mexican will take great pleasure in supporting the candidacy of Hilario Delgado for State Auditor. We believe there is no nominee of either ticket more clearly deserving of the vote of the people of New Mexico, regardless of party.”
After he lost the 1922 election, supporters promoted his selection to be the first Spanish-speaking postmaster in Santa Fe, the second-oldest city in the United States. It was a city with a majority of Spanish Americans, as the community self-identified. The Sante Fe New Mexican ran the headline in what it hoped would be a self-fulfilling prophesy: “Demand Grows that Delgado be Appointed Postmaster: Strong Sentiment in Favor of Ex-Service Man for the Santa Fe Job.”
But the appointment was not forthcoming. President Warren G. Harding named an Anglo to the position. Delgado remained active in politics and veterans affairs. He received the coveted appointment after Spanish Americans helped elect Republican Herbert Hoover president in 1928.
As the 1932 election approached, Delgado was part of a group of progressive Republicans associated with US Senator Bronson Cutting who backed Franklin Roosevelt against Hoover. As a reward, Delgado was allowed to keep the post, but it did not last long. He lost his post when the group of progressive Republicans of which he was part broke politically with Roosevelt.
Hilario Delgado was one of a number of early and largely forgotten political pioneers who navigated unchartered territory and paved the way for future leaders. Their work illustrates the early role of Latinos in both parties in New Mexico, as well as in national presidential politics in the decades prior to Viva Kennedy (1960 ) and subsequent developments.