The Hispanic Women of Distinction Family Thanks the 2008 Latina Pioneer of the Year

Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen for her decades of service to South Florida.


As the Congresswoman brings to close her remarkable career in public service to the United States of America 

we are pleased to tell her story today in her own words.  

I am proud to represent Florida’s diverse 27th Congressional District, which includes Coral Gables, Cutler Bay, Key Biscayne, Little Havana, Miami, Miami Beach, Pinecrest, South Miami, and Westchester.

I was born in Havana, Cuba in July, 1952, and when I was eight, my family and I were forced to flee from Fidel Castro’s oppressive communist regime. We put down permanent roots in our community, where I attended local schools, and ultimately earned an AA, Bachelor’s, and a  Master’s degree, culminating in  a Doctorate in Education from the University of Miami in 2004. I consider education a lifelong journey, a realization of the American dream.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros LehtinenI continued in education as a Florida certified teacher, and I also founded and served as the principal and teacher of a private bilingual elementary school in Hialeah.

I was inspired to enter public service by many of the parents and students in order to fight on their behalf for a stronger educational system, lower taxes, and a brighter economic future for all. 

In 1982, I was elected to the Florida State House of Representatives and the Florida Senate in 1986, becoming the first Hispanic woman to serve in either body. In the state legislature, I sponsored the legislation for the Florida Pre- Paid College Program, which is now the largest pre-paid college tuition program in the nation. I was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1989– the first Hispanic woman to serve in Congress–following a special election to fill the seat held by the late Claude Pepper. I have been strongly returned to Congress since.

I remain committed to improving the lives of my constituents and our beautiful South Florida community by supporting reducing taxes and cutting unnecessary government spending. I also support plans to balance the federal budget and increase tax incentives for small businesses and middle class families. In addition, I have worked to strengthen the Head Start program. I have also supported legislation to increase the availability to student financial aid and revise the cumbersome and complicated Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) process.

Hispanic Distinction
Josi Gago, Elaine Vasquez, Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen and Dr. Vasquez

As a strong advocate of programs that address the serious problem of domestic violence against women, I was a lead sponsor of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act; other important legislation. I champion include curtailing Medicare fraud, and supporting  our nation’s military, with special attention to our veterans. As Chairman emeritus of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa,

I continue to voice my strong support for the state of Israel and human rights, including my opposition to Castro’s dictatorial regime in Cuba. I have also led on pressing foreign policy issues including the fight against Islamist extremism, and support of free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. I was proud to lead the fight in the House of Representatives to impose sanctions on human rights violators in Venezuela.

I also proudly serve on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to help ensure our nation has the best intelligence gathering capabilities and processes to determine actionable threats.

I am the proud wife to Dexter Lehtinen, mother and step-mother to 4 adult children, and grandmother to five beautiful grandchildren – Morgan Elizabeth, Caroline Grace, Killian Marie, Dustin Winslow, and Javi!

August 24th is the 17th annual celebration of the Hispanic Women of Distinction presented by Bank of America in partnership with AARP Florida and Signature Grand.  For moreinformation, visit

Elaine Vasquez
Elaine Vasquez
Elaine M. Vasquez is the owner of Broward’s first bilingual newspaper, El Heraldo de Broward, publishing since 1974.. She is a seasoned public relations and marketing executive who pioneered the cable television industry in Broward County from 1970 to 1985 having co-owned a company that eventually became Comcast Communciations. She previously owned a multicultural communications company, Latin Power, Inc. and presently owns a special events company, We Do Events, Inc. which produces the annual Hispanic Women of Distinction charity luncheon, Fiesta! Fort Lauderdale, Viva Broward! Fort Lauderdale, Viva Broward!  Calendar of Events for Hispanic Heritage Month and over 200 galas, outdoor fairs and festivals, private fundraisers and political activities.   Elaine’s pioneering ventures inspired her to develop a unique set of skills that formed the backbone of her story and still makes an impact on her business and social life today. Website

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