"I remember watching the tumbleweeds roll by, the downpours when it rained, and the dust storms during the windy season," Lee said. "I miss the desert and the sunshine. I also remember that we used to get a lot of pollution from the (Asarco) smelter, and that people were getting sick from it."
After Lee's family moved to California, she finished high school there. She was a single mother with two sons when she attended Mills College. Then she received a master's degree in social work from the University of California at Berkeley.
She got involved in politics in the 1970s when she volunteered for the Black Panther Party Community Learning Center in Oakland. The region was a hotbed of activism, which helped propel the advancement of minorities. She helped with Bobby Seale's 1973 bid for mayor of Oakland. Later, she was a staffer for U.S. Rep. Ron Dellums.
Although she's considered a staunch liberal Democrat, she does not always side with the party's leadership or with President Barack Obama on policy issues.
She became known internationally for casting the sole vote in Congress against the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorism Resolution, which authorized the president to use military force against terrorism. She said it was the moment in time that defined her politically
"I am not soft on terrorism at all," Lee said.
"I support a tough national security policy and the budget for it. What I did not agree with was to give the president, any president, broad powers to wage war anywhere and against anyone without first developing the basis for such warfare. It goes against every democratic principle I stand for. Only Congress can wage war. Time has proved me right."
After that vote, which some viewed as political suicide, critics called Lee unpatriotic, and her family received death threats.
Yet since she was first elected to Congress in 1998, her constituents have kept returning her to office with landslide victories. She also received the Mario Cuomo Act of Courage Award.
She was also among the House members who voted not to count the controversial electoral vote from Ohio in the 2004 presidential election between then President George W. Bush and U.S. Sen. John Kerry.
U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes said he, Lee and others later voted against the 2002 resolution to go to war in Iraq.
"I admire her bold leadership, and together we have cast critical votes, including our vote against the war in Iraq," Reyes said.
"Barbara Lee has deep roots in our community, and I am glad to welcome her this weekend to West Texas.ΓΕ
Other members of the House said Lee is a tireless advocate for the poor, for women and for minorities. She serves on many legislative caucuses that reflect those interests. Lee is also on the powerful House Committee on Appropriations.
She agreed that the issues she cares most about have not changed.
"We need to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and we definitely need to the Dream Act," which provides a path to citizenship through education or military service for some undocumented immigrants who entered the country at a young age, Lee said. "Our most pressing needs for today is for jobs and economic opportunity for everyone. We need to allocate our resources in the most proper way that we can."
True to form, Lee's official House website calls for "reigniting the American dream" in 2012.
"I will continue to fight for the 99 percent to have a voice in Congress. The promise of America is for all, not just some," according to her online message.
Former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez of Texas, and a candidate again for Congress, said, "Barbara Lee has overcome great adversity and discrimination to become a champion for social justice and a committed voice for peace. Few Americans can speak with such authority on reigniting the American Dream.
"As Black History Month draws to a close, we are privileged to have an opportunity to hear from a leader who is shaping that proud history through her dedicated service."
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