MAKERS Profile

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

First Latina Elected to Congress

In this video

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

More From Ileana

The Good Side of Congress
With the public trust in Congress broken, Ros-Lehtinen reminds us of the good side of Congress that continues to inspire her.

“Feminist” is Not Liberal or Conservative
Republican lawmaker, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, argues "feminism" is non-partisan.

Appealing to Republican Women Voters
Republican Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen urges her party to wake up to the issues of women voters or risk extinction.

More Republican Women Candidates
Ros-Lehtinen dispels old myths and calls for more Republican women to run for office.

Cuban Refugee Community
Ros-Lehtinen on Miami in the early 60s as Cuban refugees streamed in, many of whom slept on her family's floors.

Valuing Democracy after Cuba
The indelible lessons of the Cuban Revolution, made Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen an impassioned fighter for democracy.

When you’re poor
How everyone, boys and girls, had to carry their weight doing chores in Ros-Lehtinen's childhood home.

Falling in Love with America
Ros-Lehtinen recalls what made her really fall in love with her new country as a young immigrant.

Learning to Start Over
Living through the Cuban Revolution and seeing her parents rebuild in the US taught Ros-Lehtinen about perseverance and the courage to start over.

Memories of the Cuban Revolution
Ros-Lehtinen describes her memories of the Cuban Revolution as a young girl.