The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office
“Katie Couric was interviewing me and she said, ‘How does it feel to be the first Latina elected to Congress?’ And I thought, ‘Gee, I don’t want to correct you, Katie, I mean it’s wonderful to be elected as a Member of Congress. I’m going to take my job seriously, but I don’t think I’m the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress.’ And she goes, ‘Oh, trust me, we’ve done our research, you are.’ That’s how I found out I was the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress. How did it take that long to elect a Latina to Congress? Wow! And now, I’m so proud to see so many other Latinas elected to Congress. So, the world has shifted a lot, but I always felt a sense of obligation that I was representing not just the Cuban-American community, but women as well, and Latina women especially.”
—The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, April 16, 2018

Abstract & Transcript

U.S. Representative from Florida (August 29, 1989-January 3, 2019)

In 1960, at the age of eight, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and her family fled their native land of Cuba and made a new home in Miami, Florida. The future Representative established strong community ties as an educator before transitioning to a career in politics. In her interview she explains why she sought elective office and touches upon her time in the Florida state house and senate, including how this service prepared her for Congress.

In 1989, Ros-Lehtinen entered the special election for a Miami-based seat left vacant by the death of longtime Representative Claude Pepper. The 15-term Congresswoman describes her first campaign as a “bitter” race where her opponent denigrated her Cuban heritage—a tactic she believed backfired by galvanizing the support of the Hispanic community in her district and helping her become the first Latina elected to Congress. During her time in the House, Ros-Lehtinen concentrated much of her energy on international relations. She discusses her service on the Foreign Affairs Committee and explains how she made history as the first woman to chair the House panel. Ros-Lehtinen also describes how she balanced a busy congressional schedule with raising young children when she first arrived in the U.S. House. From child care to campaigning, family played a prominent role in her career. During her 30 years in the House, Ros-Lehtinen served with six Speakers, saw a spike in the number of women serving in Congress, and was part of a Republican majority that took control of the House for the first time in 40 years. Her oral history includes recollections of the evolving institution and her milestones as the first Latina and first Cuban-American elected to Congress.

Biography

ROS-LEHTINEN, Ileana, a Representative from Florida; born Ileana Ros in Havana, Cuba, July 15, 1952; A.A., Miami-Dade Community College, Miami, Fla., 1972; B.A., Florida International University, Miami, Fla., 1975; M.S., Florida International University, Miami, Fla., 1987; Ed.D., University of Miami, Coral Gables, Fla., 2004; founder, Eastern Academy; member of the Florida state house of representatives, 1982–1986; member of the Florida state senate, 1986–1989; elected as a Republican to the One Hundred First Congress, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of United States Representative Claude D. Pepper, and reelected to the fourteen succeeding Congresses (August 29, 1989-January 3, 2019); chair, Committee on Foreign Affairs (One Hundred Twelfth Congress).

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Video

Early Memories of Cuba

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen remembers her early life in Cuba and her relocation to the United States.

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, U.S. Representative of Florida
Interview recorded April 16, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

"You Could Actually Run for Office"

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen explains why she decided to run for public office.

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, U.S. Representative of Florida
Interview recorded April 16, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Divisive Campaign

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen recalls the challenges she faced in her first congressional campaign.

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, U.S. Representative of Florida
Interview recorded April 16, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Working Mom

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen discusses the obstacles she faced when running for Congress as a mother with young children.

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, U.S. Representative of Florida
Interview recorded April 16, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Early Fundraising Experience

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen describes her early fundraising efforts as a Member of Congress.

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, U.S. Representative of Florida
Interview recorded April 16, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

First Latina Elected to Congress

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen recalls how she learned she made history as the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress.

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, U.S. Representative of Florida
Interview recorded April 16, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Gender Equality in the Institution

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen shares her thoughts on the treatment of women Members during her early career.

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, U.S. Representative of Florida
Interview recorded April 16, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen explains how Republicans select Members to chair House committees.

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, U.S. Representative of Florida
Interview recorded April 16, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Congressional Softball

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen discusses how women Members bond when involved in activities like the Congressional Softball Game.

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, U.S. Representative of Florida
Interview recorded April 16, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Variety in Leadership

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen explains why she thinks women Members need to serve in leadership positions.

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, U.S. Representative of Florida
Interview recorded April 16, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Images & Artifacts

2006 Baseball Card
<i>2006 Baseball Card</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_roslehtinen_baseballcard.xml
In 1993, Representative Ros-Lehtinen joined the Republican baseball team and became one of the first women to play in the game. Featured in this 2006 baseball card, the Congresswoman wore her Florida Marlins jersey.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
Miami's Representative 
<i>Miami's Representative </i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_roslehtinen_picture.xml
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen served in the U.S. House for 15 terms, from 1989 to 2019.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office
Interview in the Capitol
<i>Interview in the Capitol</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_roslehtinen_camera.xml
In 1995, members of the press interviewed Representative Ros-Lehtinen near Statuary Hall in the Capitol.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representative Photography Office
Chairing a Subcommittee
<i>Chairing a Subcommittee</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_roslehtinen_chairing.xml
In the 108th Congress (2003-2005), Representative Ros-Lehtinen chaired the Middle East and Central Asia subcommittee of the House Committee on Internal Relations. This photo was taken in 2004.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representative Photography Office
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen 
<i>Ileana Ros-Lehtinen </i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_roslehtinen_foreignaffairs.xml
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen chaired the Foreign Affairs Committee in the 112th Congress (2011-2013). In her interview, she discusses the process of having her portrait painted.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representative
About this object
Florida Marlins
<i>Florida Marlins</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_roslehtinen_jersey.xml
Representative Ros-Lehtinen held up a custom Florida Marlins baseball jersey in 1993.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representative Photography Office
Ways and Means Committee
<i>Ways and Means Committee</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_roslehtinen_waysandmeans.xml
Representative Ros-Lehtinen testified before the Subcommittee on Trade of the House Committee on Ways and Means in June 1995. The subject of the hearing was "the economic relationship between the United States and Cuba after Castro."
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representative Photography Office