Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Mexican" Vote

I’ve been involved in politics for nearly 20 years now. I covered many political races as a reporter and attempted to explore ethnicity in politics in a comprehensive way. In 2000, when Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush working hard to attract Hispanic voters, I remember being a little amused when he sent his Spanish-speaking, Hispanic nephew from Florida to New Mexico to make his pitch to Hispanics in Valencia County. During that same election, I drove to Mora County to write a story from the perspective of a Hispanic Republican sheriff who was successful in heavily Democratic Northern New Mexico. A few years later, I went to work for one of the most prominent Hispanic politicians in the country, Bill Richardson, who was twice elected governor of New Mexico and was the first Hispanic Democrat to run for President. I wrote dozens of speeches for Richardson about the role of Hispanics in national politics, during the 2004 election when John Kerry ran on the Democratic ticket; and in 2008 when Richardson came in fourth place in the Democratic primary that Barack Obama eventually won. More recently, I worked for Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is a 12th-generation New Mexican, as she beat out two other Hispanic candidates in the Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District.

Needless to say, I thought I had a pretty good appreciation for Hispanic politics in New Mexico, even if I arrived on the scene long after many trailblazing, Hispanic politicians like U.S. Senators Dennis Chavez and Joseph Montoya. But what I didn’t realize was the role that ethnic, or “Mexican” politics played more than a century ago, and involving one of my ancestors.

The only Great-Grandfather I knew as a child was my Grandpa Tony, Antonio DeTevis, who was born in Las Gallinas and lived most of his life in Las Vegas. He was named after his own grandfather, Antonio DeTevis, who came to New Mexico from the Azore Islands, part of Portugal, in the early 1800s. The elder Antonio DeTevis apparently came here with his brother, Pedro Jose DeTevis, who became a well-known merchant in Taos. One of his claims to fame is the fact that he was good friends with Kit Carson and is buried next to Carson in Taos. But if you go to the cemetery there, you won’t find Pedro Jose. You’ll find a prominent grave marker for Peter Joseph DeTevis. For most of his life, Pedro went simply by Peter Joseph. He and his younger brother Antonio reportedly arrived from the Azores in New Orleans, moved up the Mississippi to St. Louis, and ended up in Taos. At some point in the 1830s or 40s, Pedro started going by the name Peter Joseph, an Anglicized version of Pedro Jose.
Peter Joseph (1814-1862) as shown in "Portuguese in the Old West"

It’s not clear why Peter Joseph Anglicized his name, but apparently it was not uncommon for Portuguese immigrants to do so. What has always been puzzling to me is the fact that Peter Joseph became such a successful merchant and land owner in Taos and associated with other non-natives like Carson, Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain; while his younger brother, Antonio, kept the DeTevis name and was otherwise anonymous in the history of Taos County and New Mexico.

Peter Joseph’s son, Antonio Joseph, was even more prominent in Northern New Mexico – in real estate and in politics. And the Anglicized Joseph name sometimes played a role in Antonio’s political career.

Antonio Joseph
Antonio Joseph served as a judge in Taos County and eventually moved to Ojo Caliente sometime after his father died in 1863. He inherited much of his father’s vast fortune and land holdings in Taos (including buildings on the Taos Plaza) and Rio Arriba counties, and eventually purchased most of the land that was part of the original Ojo Caliente land grant. He was elected to the territorial Legislature in the early 1880s. Then, he served 10 years as New Mexico’s delegate to Congress, from 1884-1894, apparently the first person of Portuguese descent to serve in Congress. After losing a re-election bid in 1894, Joseph served in the territorial Council, the predecessor of the state Senate, and served as President of the Council in 1898.

Antonio Joseph had many friends, but also made political enemies. One such adversary was L. Bradford Prince, who in 1884 was a former state Supreme Court justice and would later serve as Governor of the territory. But in that year, he was the Republican opponent to Antonio Joseph a Democrat, in a three-way race for delegate to Congress.

Apparently, Prince tried to use Antonio Joseph’s ethnicity against him in that congressional race, according to former Governor and former Congressional Delegate Miguel Antonio Otero, who wrote about the encounter in his book “My Life on the Frontier.” Otero said in his book that he obtained an original letter that Prince sent to a political ally, Judge Shaw, in Socorro County. In that letter, marked confidential, Prince writes about the importance of the “Mexican” vote in the upcoming election.

“The Mexican vote, under the circumstances, is very important,” Prince writes to Shaw. “I think much can be done by printing tickets with my name at the head.” Prince goes on to suggest that if he is elected, “…our fellows will be on top for a good while, and you can be sure that anything in the way of patronage will go where there are obligations. I believe in standing by one’s friends. You can do an enormous amount by the display of the tact you have in such things.”

What exactly was Prince suggesting? He spells it out in an enclosed note, marked “strictly confidential.”

“There has been so much said as to Joseph’s name that every one understands that his real name is DeTevis and many newspapers have suggested that probably a ticket to be legal should be printed Antonio Joseph DeTevis. The Democratic tickets are printed simply Antonio Joseph. Now, if Democratic tickets are printed, say in Socorro, quietly, with the name Antonio Joseph DeTevis at the head, and sent out in proper packages addressed to the Democratic committeeman in precincts (not in Socorro or where any leader lives) so as to arrive shortly before the election, it would appear to be the revised and corrected ticket, and certainly would be used in some places. This would divide the vote. Of course places having telegraphs should be avoided.”

Former Governor Otero minced no words in his book about Prince’s tactics.

“I have this original letter and suggestion in my possession, written in the handwriting of L. Bradford Prince, and it was my opinion that any man who resorted to such methods was absolutely unfit to hold any position within the gift of the people. Prince’s tactics were well known to everybody in New Mexico. He would run down anyone whom he thought was in his way and had no hesitancy in telling a deliberate lie, if by so doing he might benefit.”

It’s not clear what, if anything, happened as a result of Prince’s suggestion. There were tickets printed with the DeTevis surname in San Miguel County, although they were Spanish-language tickets. I supposed it’s possible that Antonio Joseph benefited from those tickets because of his Iberian ancestry. Ironically, the so-called “Mexican vote” in 1884 probably similar to the “Hispanic” or “Latino” vote in 2012 – is not so easily defined. In fact, there was nothing “Mexican” about Antonio Joseph, who was born in St. Louis to a Portuguese father and a mother who was at least part Black and was Peter Joseph’s servant, and possibly slave, before the family moved to New Mexico where they were married and Antonio was baptized.

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