Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995
The first Hispanic woman elected to Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, was born in Havana, Cuba on July 15, 1952, and emigrated to the United States when she was seven years old. She studied at Miami-Dade Community College, where she received an A.A. degree in 1972. She subsequently studied at Florida International University, where she earned a B.A. in 1975, and an M.S. in 1987. She is a candidate for a Ph.D. in education at the University of Miami. She was the founder of Eastern Academy, a private elementary school, where she was also a teacher and administrator.
In 1982, Ros-Lehtinen began her political career when she was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, becoming the first Hispanic woman elected to Florida's State legislature. She served until 1986, when she became a State Senator. As a state legislator she supported legislation to promote drug-free work places and a tuition assistance program for Florida college students. She served as State Senator until 1989, when she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in a special election to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Claude D. Pepper (D-FL). She represents Florida's 18th District where, according to the 1990 census, sixty-seven percent of the population is Hispanic. She has been reelected three times, and ran unopposed in the 1994 election. In Congress she has continued her support of legislation dealing with education. She serves on the Foreign Affairs and Government Operations Committees. Her seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee is of particular importance to her Cuban-American constituency. In her second term, she played a key role in the discussion of the Cuban Democracy Act, which became part of the 1993 defense authorization. It specifically prohibits subsidiaries of U.S. corporations from trading with Cuba. In the 104th Congress, she became the Chair of the Africa Subcommittee, becoming the first Hispanic woman to chair a subcommittee, and was designated as Vice-Chair of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee.
For further reading:
Telgen, Diane and Kamp, Jim, ed. Notable Hispanic American Women. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1993. pp. 356-357.
Official U.S. House of Representatives Web Site: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen