Success Stories

Meet Donna Shalala: America’s new Lebanese American congresswoman

donna shalala lebanese congresswoman

Florida voters have sent a Lebanese American woman to Congress — a 5-foot-tall powerhouse Democrat who beat out a Latino Republican in a hotly contested Midterm race.

Donna Shalala, 77, is the second Lebanese American woman to hold a seat in U.S. Congress. The first was Ohio congresswoman Mary Rose Oakar, who served from 1977 to 1993.

Shalala is arguably one of the most qualified freshman members of Congress. She previously served as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton, and as president of the University of Miami from 2001 to 2015.

The political veteran and fierce Trump critic beat her Republican opponent Maria Elvira Salazar with 51.7 percent of the vote.

Donna Shalala is the second Lebanese American woman to be elected to U.S. Congress. (Facebook/Donna Shalala)
Donna Shalala is the second Lebanese American woman to be elected to U.S. Congress. (Facebook/Donna Shalala)

“Mr. President, ready or not here we come,” Shalala told supporters during a victory speech in Florida. “Tonight I want you to hear a message of unity.”

Shalala was born in Cleveland to a Maronite Catholic Lebanese family — the daughter of Edna Smith and James Abraham Shalala. Her mother, a prominent Ohio attorney, practiced law for 50 years before retiring at age 91.

Her mother is recognized in Ohio as the first female attorney of Lebanese descent to practice law in Cleveland. Shalala, who will serve a large Latino population in her district, told NBC News she has an “extensive network of cousins throughout Latin America.”

“Lebanon has a long history of migration to the Americas, so while her grandparents settled in Miami at the turn of the century, their brothers and sisters settled in Cuba, Brazil, and Mexico,” NBC News reported.

Shalala will be sworn in Jan. 3 in Washington, D.C.

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