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Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez on Celebrating Deb Haaland, Passing COVID Relief, and Turning Pain into Policy

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teresa leger fernandez


Courtesy Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández

When Teresa Leger Fernandez was elected to represent New Mexico’s 3rd congressional district this past November, she became part of history: For the first time, the state had elected solely women of color to its U.S. House delegation, including her mentor Deb Haaland, who’s now been confirmed as the nation’s first Native American cabinet secretary. Leger Fernandez also became the first woman, and the first Latina, to represent her district.

But for members of the 117th Congress, the 2020 election was only the beginning of what would be a critical legislative year. Just days after members were sworn into Congress, the Capitol came under attack. Shortly after, President Biden was inaugurated and Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial began. Then in March, a year into the coronavirus pandemic, Leger Fernandez and her Democratic colleagues worked to pass the American Rescue Plan, Biden’s first major COVID-19 relief bill.

This Monday, just hours before Haaland was officially confirmed, Leger Fernandez went live on ELLE’s Facebook to answer 20 questions about her time in office. She was joined by A’shanti Gholar, the founder of The Brown Girls Guide to Politics, as part of a special Women’s History Month collaboration between ELLE and The BGG. Find an abridged version of the Q&A below, or watch the full video here:

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Gholar: For you, what is it like being a part of history?

Rep. Leger Fernandez: It is absolutely marvelous because we recognize that this is our future. But oftentimes I’m the only Latina in the room. I bring my perspective to the questions at hand. Sometimes it’s as simple as we’re sending a letter to Biden’s then-transition team, and I say, we haven’t mentioned tal y tal y tal, I’ll list three issues that are close to my lived experience. Those are the key things, to be able to be that voice in that room at all times.

We can’t talk about the first 100 days without talking about Jan. 6. I was thinking about everyone there, especially the women, the women of color, because it was very obvious who they really wanted to attack. What are some ways we can continue to support you and the other women in Congress after that horrible day?

You’re absolutely right, we know that white supremacy was at the core of the rioters and the insurrectionists. In my Congressional Hispanic Caucus, there have been some members who immediately after, on the flights home, were attacked for who they were [because] they were easily identified. The hard thing we all struggle with from that day is the fact that it was an attack on our democracy, on this thing we love so much. The attacks were clearly because they didn’t like what democracy was doing. Democracy was electing people of color. It was electing our first vice president woman of color. I think that the way you support us is by doing it again: fighting back, registering, voting, organizing, being active, bringing joy and energy to this effort to save our future.

We know COVID-19 has disproportionally impacted our tribal communities. You said on the House floor, “Native Americans are four times more likely to be hospitalized and twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than white Americans.” How has our government, particularly the previous administration, failed our Indigenous communities?

The failures that have led to the death and despair in Indian country are really decades and centuries in the making. We have failed to live up to our trust obligations to Native Americans. We promised, as the United States, to provide healthcare, to provide education. We have failed in that. As the chair of the Committee on Indigenous Peoples, I’m going to want us to start fully funding the [Bureau of Indian Affairs], fully funding the Bureau of Indian Education, fully funding the Indian Health Service, and then saying, we know that Native American tribes can do a better job at running these programs than we can. In the meantime, be very aware of the many ways in which our culture puts down Native Americans and be very supportive of things like Deb Haaland becoming the next Secretary of the Interior and celebrating those wins.

One of the things you talked about when you were campaigning is being a breast cancer survivor. How does that impact your approach to your work in Congress?

I had breast cancer. I’ve also had near-death experiences related to maternal health. What I have is the willingness to talk about what’s it like to almost die when you’re trying to give birth, what’s it like to have cancer and be bald and be weak and be terrified and deal with all of those insurance forms. What I have coming out of it is empathy, and it’s empathy born of experience. And it’s not just our own baldness or weakness and reliance on friends, but the fact that we don’t spend enough time addressing unique health concerns of women. I lost both my mother and my sister to lung cancer, which it turns out that non-smoker women are more likely to develop a certain kind of adenocarcinoma of the lung, but we don’t send the alarm bells out about it, so it doesn’t get diagnosed till it’s stage four and you lose those who you love.

So then the question is, what do you do with that pain? I think what’s important is that we use it to build our policies. I want to create the opportunities we each need and deserve from that place of love that comes out of trauma. You can do different things with it, and what I want to do is build empathy and build policies that are rooted in that sense of vulnerability.

Who’s another history-maker you look up to?

Dolores Huerta. “Sí, se puede!” I was listening to her being interviewed on Latino USA, and Dolores said, “Make sure you dance a lot when you’re young, so you have the energy to march a lot when you’re old.” She is 90, and she is still active and going.

If you had to quarantine with one person from the 117th Congress, who would it be?

It actually would be the Speaker [of the House Nancy Pelosi] because one, think of all the stories she has, right? She’s got stories of battles going back decades. She has a joy about her, which is really wonderful. She also clearly likes good food. So there would be good food, good stories.

What’s the most outrageous thing someone has said to you in Congress?

During the markup of the American Rescue Plan, [a colleague said] that it’s alright for immigrants to pick crops in his district, but we don’t need to make sure they’re protected during the pandemic. That to me was outrageous, the idea that we will take your labor, but we won’t give you any of our respect or any of the protections that the entire community needs.

What are you most looking forward to doing once the pandemic is over?

Dancing under the stars. Santa Fe has great music every night of the week in the summer, and I need to dance a lot so I can be marching with Dolores Huerta when I’m 90.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed. Listen to the entire conversation here.

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Fashion

28 Commoners Who Married Royals

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28 Commoners Who Married Royals


Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiary

She became an Iranian queen when she married Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1951. The daughter of a German mother and a father who was a member of Iran’s powerful Bakhtiari family, Queen Soraya was the Shah’s second wife and later became an actress. She went on to star in two films, I Tre Volti and She, after the couple’s divorce in 1958.

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35 Unforgettable Royal Wedding Scandals, Shockers, and Bizarre Moments

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35 Unforgettable Royal Wedding Scandals, Shockers, and Bizarre Moments


Princess Stéphanie of Monaco married her bodyguard.

Grace Kelly’s daughter, Princess Stéphanie, tied the knot with Daniel Ducruet, who had previously been assigned as her bodyguard. When the couple wed, they already had two children together. At the time, The Associated Press described Ducruet as “a former pet shop salesman and fishmonger known to have a hot temper,” and noted that Stéphanie’s father, Rainier III, opposed the love connection. The wedding took place on July 1, 1995, at Monaco Town Hall. However, little more than a year later, the marriage ended in divorce when, per the AP, Ducruet “was caught by paparazzi in a poolside romp with a Belgian stripper.”

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All of Queen Rania of Jordan’s Best Fashion Moments

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the king and queen of jordan will visit the basilica of st francis of assisi


Franco OrigliaGetty Images

Since her husband, Abdullah II, became the King of Jordan in 1999, Queen Rania of Jordan has been hard at work. The Queen is best known for her advocacy in public health and education, as well as her supremely trendy sense of style. Throughout the years, Rania has proven that her sartorial tastes are impeccable. She has a penchant for monochromatic looks and pops of color, but also knows her way around a neutral palette. Read on for 63 of her best royal style moments here.

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April 17, 2019

Rania stepped out in a casual tank and pants combo during a tour of Jordan, and brightened it up with a coral jacket.

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March 29, 2019

For a visit to the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Queen wore a collared navy midi dress, a trendy Louis Vuitton handbag, and added dainty silver earrings.

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March 29, 2019

While visiting French President Emmanuel Macron, Queen Rania wore this bold monochrome look, which features a pleated midi dress and a tailored leather jacket.

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October 14, 2018

The Queen stunned in a belted pinstripe midi dress for the state opening of Jordan’s Parliament.

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June 25, 2018

On a visit to the White House with her husband, Rania wore a flowy blush pantsuit with a matching purse and pumps.

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May 22, 2018

Rania wore a gorgeous grey-blue pleated turtleneck dress to her daughter Princess Salma’s graduation.

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March 21, 2018

Rania chose a tailored grey blazer, turtleneck, and crisp white pants for a visit to the Netherlands. Her suede heels and elaborate woven handbag were perfect complements to her neutral outfit.

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March 20, 2018

Queen Rania showed us that she isn’t afraid of a bold pop of color. Here, she wore a bright blue swing coat with statement buttons and a white neck scarf over her grey dress.

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November 11, 2017

For this look, Rania paired a simple white top with a brightly patterned pencil skirt and coral handbag.

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August 11, 2017

For the Sovereign’s Parade at the Royal Military Academy, the Queen chose a bright pink quilted princess coat and matching heels. She accessorized with a black purse and silver jewelry.

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May 21, 2017

Rania glowed at the Fashion for Relief event at Cannes, wearing a delicate white dress with lace details and simple jewelry. She posed for a photo with Princess Beatrice and Sarah, Duchess of York at the event.

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December 3, 2016

The Queen wore an elegant A-line gown with pink silk details to a gala in Germany.

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November 11, 2016

Rania chose a simple black blazer and pencil skirt, drawing attention to her intricate turtleneck, for the state opening of Parliament in Amman, Jordan.

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September 11, 2016

Queen Rania stepped out in a beautiful crimson and blue gown for the Celebrity Fight Night gala.

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June 2, 2016

Rania arrived at the Great Arab Revolt centennial wearing a deep teal dress with gold embroidery, turquoise drop earrings, a cream quilted clutch, and black heels.

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May 25, 2016

For Jordan’s 70th Independence Day, Rania chose a belted maroon top with an extravagant red and white detailed skirt, maroon heels and silver accessories.

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May 18, 2016

Rania wore a soft pink swing coat adorned with a floral detail and black kitten heels alongside the Queen of Belgium during a visit to Brussels.

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May 2, 2016

The Queen turned heads on the red carpet in a feathered gown dotted with delicate silver gems by Valentino at the Manus x Machina Costume Institute gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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January 8, 2016

During a visit to London, Rania wore a hot pink pencil dress with a complementary belted coat and black pointed-toe heels.

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November 20, 2015

While in Spain, the Queen wore a black and white striped accordion skirt, a white blouse, and a mahogany wide belt.

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November 19, 2015

Here, Rania paired a trendy leather pencil skirt with a patterned blouse for a visit to the Prado Media Lab cultural center in Madrid, Spain.

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November 19, 2015

Queen Rania walked with Queen Letizia of Spain on the airport tarmac as she arrives in Madrid, Spain for a royal visit. Rania’s chic ensemble proves that even after a long plane ride, the royal is glowing. This look features a simple sky blue dress, a red and white woven wrap coat, and glittery heels.

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September 25, 2015

For the UN Foundation’s Gender Equality Discussion, Rania stepped out in an all-white ensemble, but it’s far from dull. The detail in her top, her snakeskin clutch, and her reflective pointed-toe heels make this a style to remember.

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August 26, 2015

Rania and her daughter walked the red carpet for the Medef Summer University Conference. The Queen wore a simple A-line dress and accented it with a Louis Vuitton bag and strappy heels.

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May 19, 2014

Here Queen Rania wore a black and white patterned top, a black midi skirt with a sheer overlay, and pumps.

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March 12, 2013

Rania and Camilla Parker Bowles pose for a photo during Prince Charles and Camilla’s royal tour in Jordan. Rania chose a bright blue and white knee-length dress adorned with a flower, and pearl drop earrings for the occasion.

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May 18, 2012

Queen Rania chose a classic flattering dress for a dinner at Buckingham Palace. The celebration was held in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, her 60th anniversary on the throne.

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May 18, 2012

Rania wore a white ruffled top with gold accents, paired with a fiery red pencil skirt, and her signature black pumps for an event at Windsor Castle in England. The royal was in town to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.

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April 2, 2012

The Queen was glowing on a visit to the Royal Palace in Italy, wearing an embroidered double-breasted trench coat, peep-toe heels, and a sleek black purse.

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June 19, 2010

Rania stepped out in a purple gown—the color of royalty—paired with a tiara and sash for Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Daniel Westling’s royal wedding in Stockholm, Sweden.

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