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Women's History Month: Congresswoman Becomes Vocal Advocate For City

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As the station continues its week-long look at Women's History, we profile Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, who has been a leading voice on many fronts, for many years. NY1's Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.

Whether she drives her point home in Spanish or in English, it's hard to imagine a day when Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez was not outspoken. But she remembers growing up in Puerto Rico and being timid. She credits her second grade teacher for helping her find her spark.

"I was very shy. And she was able to detect that I was a curious person. That something was different with me," Velazquez said.

Among her many firsts, she was the first Latina to serve on the City Council back in 1984. She was also the first Puerto Rican woman to become a member of Congress in 1992. At the end of her current term representing New York's 12th Congressional District, she will mark 20 years.

"Everytime I go to Washington. Everytime I go to the Capitol. Everytime I look in the hallways of Congress, I realize that it's an incredible responsibility and an incredible honor," Velazquez said.

One of nine children, Velazquez says her father, who worked as a sugar cane cutter, and her mother both pushed for education at an early age.

"My father and my mother always spoke to us about the fact that we were poor. But if I studied hard, and got a full scholarship then I might be able to go to college," Velazquez said.

Velazquez went to NYU on a full scholarship for her masters. She then taught at Hunter College, moved to Brooklyn and became politically active.

"We start talking about political empowerment and I told them, 'Look, the reason why people don't vote is because they're not registered but if we launch a voter registration,'" Velazquez said.

Velazquez went on to register thousands of voters, many of them Latinos, who in turn, elected her into office when district lines were re-drawn.

"I knew in my heart that election was for me to win," Velazquez said.

Velazquez represents a tri-borough district which includes much of the Brooklyn waterfront, the Lower East Side and parts of Queens. She says her mission is to narrow the bridge between New York and Washington so her constituents feel connected.

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