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U.S. Congress votes to name post office in Belen for late Sen. Dennis Chavez

WASHINGTON D.C. — The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives voted last week to rename the U.S. Post Office in Belen in honor of the late U.S. Sen. Dennis Chávez.

The bill, which is part of the 2023 fiscal year omnibus bill, is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden, but as of Tuesday afternoon, has not received the president’s signature.

Sen. Chávez, the first American-born Hispanic senator, worked to further civil rights, education, conservation and economic development in New Mexico and across the nation.

“During his decades-long career in public service, Sen. Chávez worked tirelessly to advance the interests of every New Mexican,” said U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM). “His legacy continues to impact and inspire my work in the Senate today. I am proud that this legislation is reaching the finish line to commemorate Sen. Chávez’s service to New Mexico.”

“Sen. Dennis Chávez is a New Mexico hero who fought for our communities. As the first Hispano/Latino senator to ever serve in the United States Senate; he is also an American icon, who fought tirelessly for justice and civil rights,” said U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM). “Known as ‘El Senador’ by his colleagues, Sen. Chávez never backed down from defending what he saw as right — whether it was championing our communities and workers or being the first to speak out against anti-democratic smear campaigns on the House floor.

“Today, we are deeply proud to advance legislation to designate the U.S. Post Office in Belen as the “Senator Dennis Chávez Post Office” to honor his legacy as one of New Mexico’s most important public servants.”

Heinrich and Stansbury introduced the legislation in July. U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) are original cosponsors.

“Sen. Dennis Chávez left a remarkable legacy in New Mexico — always fighting for working families and advancing civil rights,” said Luján. “Renaming the Belen Post Office in Senator Chávez’s honor is a small token of appreciation for “El Senador” and his life in public service. Senator Chávez’s legacy continues to live on in the lives of New Mexicans, and I am honored to follow in the footsteps of one of New Mexico’s greatest Senators.”

“New Mexico selected Senator Chávez as one of our two commemorative statues in the Capitol for a reason,” said Leger Fernández. “His work ethic and philanthropy during his service between 1936 and 1962 represent a grand legacy that speaks of his love for service and his passion for working tirelessly for New Mexicans. I am honored to support the first Hispanic senator to serve in the U.S. Senate and rename the Belen Post Office in his honor. I am pleased to see this name-change included in the end-of-year funding package.”

The legislation is supported by Sen. Chávez’s family, the Belen City Council, New Mexico Chapter of the American Postal Workers Union, and the local postmaster in Belen.

“The family of the late U.S. Senator Dennis Chavez deeply appreciates the effort and support of Sen. Martin Heinrich and his staff, the Mayor, the City Manager, and the City Council of Belen in naming the local post office after the late Senator. This ensures that the remarkable and important legacy of Senator Chavez will be remembered by generations to come and serve as an inspiration to many to enter public service,” the family of Sen. Chávez wrote in a statement.

Sen. Chávez dropped out of school at age of 13 in order to help support his family. However, he continued his education independently, and eventually gained admission to Georgetown University Law School.

He began his political career in 1922 when he was elected to the New Mexico State House of Representatives. In 1930, he was elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he sat on the Public Lands and Indian Affairs Committees.

Chávez was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1936. In 1950, he was selected to be the chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Works. As chairman, he oversaw critical advancements in our nation’s infrastructure, including expansion of the interstate highway system, improvements to water infrastructure, and construction of federal buildings, including post offices.

Chávez passed away on Nov. 18, 1962. In 1966, the state of New Mexico donated a bronze sculpture of Sen. Chávez to the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol, which stands outside of the old Senate Chamber today.