House Adds Portrait of First Hispanic Rep.

Posted October 19, 2005 at 6:49pm

He was a political pioneer, a patriot and a top-notch horseman, and now the late Romualdo Pacheco (R-Calif.), the first Hispanic Representative, will take his place of honor on the Capitol’s walls.

A portrait of Pacheco, who was also the inaugural Hispanic to chair a Congressional committee, was unveiled Wednesday in a ceremony in the Longworth House Office Building. It will become the first portrait of a Hispanic Member to hang in the Capitol.

The portrait depicts Pacheco holding a map and standing in the very room (H-157) where he presided as chairman of the Private Land Claims Committee. It was painted by prominent American artist Daniel Greene, whose work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and whose past subjects run the gamut from first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to author Ayn Rand to CBS News’ Bob Schieffer to conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh.

Pacheco’s portrait will hang alongside the recently unveiled images of the late Reps. Jeannette Rankin (R-Mont.) and Joseph Rainey (R-S.C.) — respectively, the first woman elected to the House and the first directly-elected black Member to be seated in Congress — on the third floor of the Capitol just outside the House visitors’ galleries.

“They are years long overdue,” said Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), whom, as chairman of the House Administration Committee also heads the House Fine Arts Board and was responsible for approving the portraits.

Of the 257 portraits in the House collection, only six are of women and 10 of non-white men.

House Administration ranking member Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.), who read a letter from Pacheco’s great-great-granddaughter at the ceremony, said the Pacheco unveiling hardly marked the end of the effort to increase minority and female representation in the House art collection.

Millender-McDonald said she would ultimately like to see portraits of the first black, Asian and Hispanic females elected to Congress added to the collection, specifically mentioning the late Reps. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.) and Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii) for the first two of those designations. The first Latina Member, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), is still serving in Congress. Millender-McDonald also wants to see a bust of abolitionist and suffragist Sojourner Truth added to Statuary Hall.

“I want to make sure we recognize and include those number of women who should be somehow displayed in this Capitol,” said Millender-McDonald.

At the ceremony, Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.), the driving force behind the portrait, praised Pacheco as a true “citizen legislator” who excelled both in public and private life, and had once reportedly even lassoed a grizzly bear.

At 13, Pacheco, a native of then-Mexican-ruled California, swore allegiance to the Union during the Mexican-American War while a seaman’s apprentice on a Pacific merchant ship. During the Civil War, he commanded a brigade of Californians charged with disarming local anti-Union militias who had been stockpiling weapons to be used in a planned Confederate uprising in the West, Weller said.

The political rise of Pacheco, who left the Democratic Party for the GOP in 1861, was equally precocious. At 22, Pacheco was elected to a judgeship for the Superior Court of San Luis Obispo. He also served in the California Assembly and as state treasurer, among other offices. In 1875, he became the first, and so far the only, Hispanic governor of California before winning election to the House by just one vote the following year.

But Pacheco’s ascension to Congress was not without its difficulties. He was briefly seated in the chamber only to be removed in 1878 after the Elections Committee overturned his election, which had been the subject of a protracted dispute. That September, however, he was decisively elected to the chamber and served until March 1883. In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison appointed him U.S. envoy to Central America.