The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
After fleeing the communist regime of Cuba with her family, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen kept close ties to her homeland while also establishing herself in the United States as a teacher and principal before serving in the Florida state house and senate. During her 15 terms in the House of Representatives she focused on international relations and made history as the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress and the first woman to chair the Foreign Affairs Committee.
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.
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Early Memories of Cuba
"You Could Actually Run for Office"
Early Fundraising Experience
First Latina Elected to Congress
Gender Equality in the Institution
Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee
Variety in Leadership
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