The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
“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
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.
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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Early Memories of Cuba
The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen remembers her early life in Cuba and her relocation to the United States.
"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 recalls the challenges she faced in her first congressional campaign.
The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen discusses the obstacles she faced when running for Congress as a mother with young children.
Early Fundraising Experience
The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen describes her early fundraising efforts as a Member of Congress.
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.
Gender Equality in the Institution
The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen shares her thoughts on the treatment of women Members during her early career.
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 discusses how women Members bond when involved in activities like the Congressional Softball Game.
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