Having recently obtained a nearly one-hundred-year-old political button bearing the name and image of Manuel B. Otero, I became curious: Who was he, and was there anything particularly interesting about his gubernatorial campaign?
Manuel B. Otero
Manuel B. Otero ran for governor of New Mexico in 1924 when he was the forty-six. When the voters were counted, it initially appeared that Otero would become the third Latino governor since statehood; the first being Ezequiel C. de Baca, and the second, Octaviano Larrazolo.
Long active in politics, Otero’s record of public service included two presidential appointments. President William Howard Taft appointed Otero assistant postmaster of Santa Fe in 1910. Two years later, Taft named him state collector of revenue.
Appointments of Latino political activists were limited in the United States at this time. Otreo’s rise likely reflected his family ties. His uncle, Solomon Luna, was one of the richest people in New Mexico and a longtime member of the National Republican Committee. This was a time when 70 percent of the state’s Latinos, who largely identified as Spanish Americans, registered with the party of Abraham Lincoln. Continue reading
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.”
Biographies in academia are increasingly rare, particularly for scholars seeking to highlight the collective voice in ethnic and working-class history. The form works well in James J. Lorence’s Palomino: Clinton Jencks and Mexican-American Unionism in the American Southwest.
Clinton Jencks is credited for empowering subjugated Mexican American hard-rock miners in Grant County, New Mexico. Local 890 of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (Mine-Mill), for which he served as president, is best known for its role in the classic 1954 labor film, Salt of the Earth. The miners, or more precisely their wives, emerge as the resolute heroes of a bitter strike seeking economic and racial justice by raising wages and ending the “dual wage” system, whereby Mexican Americans earned less than Anglos on the job and faced discrimination in the community.
Jencks was shaped by his parents’ commitment to the Social Gospel prevalent during the Progressive Era and his coming of age during the Great Depression. He sought to change the world by joining the Communist Party. His penchant for activism expressed itself largely through leadership in a series of broad-based, progressive organizations in the thirties, forties, and fifties: most notably the American Youth Congress, American Veterans Committee, and Mine-Mill.