- As told to Cathy Areu by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

I became the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress, in 1989. When I got elected, I didn’t know I’d be the first Hispanic woman. Then I did the

Today show the very next day, and they said that, and I was stunned. I said: ‘Well, I may be the first, but I’m not going to be the only one. I’m sure there are going to be a lot coming behind me.’

That first week, so many cameras were following me, and I just felt like: ‘Just go away and focus on someone else, because I’m bound to mess up soon, and I don’t want it to be on film.’ I had never run for office when I was in high school or college. We talked about human rights and freedom and democracy and Cuba around our dining room table, but I never thought about it in terms of political office. We were political in the sense of the bigger issues, but not in the sense of running for office.

I used to be a teacher. I got to know so many of my families at the school, and I got to know their problems and their issues, and it got me encouraged to make a difference – and to run for political office

. . . out of nowhere. Just talking to them and listening to their problems, I said, ‘I think I’ll run.’ And nobody thought that I would win.”

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