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MAKERS Profile

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

First Latina Elected to Congress

More From Ileana

In this video

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on leaving Cuba and her improbable journey to becoming the first Latina Congresswoman.

Ileana 's Biography

Historical Influence: Sir Winston Churchill
String of Firsts: Before becoming the first Hispanic US Congresswoman, she served as the first Hispanic woman in the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate.
Political Connections: Jeb Bush was her campaign manager when she first ran for her US House seat in 1989.
Advice for Younger Women: "Don't think of everything that could go wrong. Think of everything that can go right."

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen fled Castro’s Cuba with her family when she was eight. She was educated in Miami’s Little Havana and earned her Bachelor’s degree in 1975, before founding and serving as a teacher/principal in a Hialeah, Florida private school. She later wrote, "I was inspired to enter public service by many of the parents and students, to fight on their behalf..." Her own education never stopped. She earned her master's while she was serving the Florida House of Representatives and a doctorate after a decade-and-a-half in the United States Congress. Ros-Lehtinen’s 1989 election to the latter made her the first Cuban-American and the first Latina to join the House. 
 
Now in her third decade in Congress, she is Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a vigorous national defense advocate. But she breaks from her party in her anything-but-orthodox stands on behalf of gay rights. She was one of only 15 House Republicans to support the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and is the first GOP member to have supported repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Ros-Lehtinen is a proud mother and grandmother and a fighter for human rights, at home and abroad. 

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