Let me start by stating that I did not vote on June 26 2018. It is not something that I am necessarily proud of but I have good reason. Like most eligible voters my age, which is 32 years old, I am frustrated with my voting options and the political process overall. Ever since MTV had to urge Generation X to Rock the Vote, the concept, importance and integrity of politics has gradually lost its relevance with the youth. Although Millenials have made their own splashes in the sociopolitical pond, a majority of young people have simply given up on politics. But all of that looked to change when a young Latina candidate from the Bronx emerged and pulled off one of the biggest political upset since the Donald.
Recently unseating Dem. Joseph Crowley for the Democratic Caucus Chair, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist, has shook up the world with her victory. Only 28 years old, Ocasio-Cortez is an inspiration, living proof that the youth—regardless of their political affiliation—can be the change they want to see. You do not have to come from money or be born a Kennedy to become a politician. However, if you care about your community enough to execute initiatives that will enrich that community, you are halfway there. Sure, the working class hometown hero narrative has been done but this reincarnation of that narrative could not be more appropriately timed.
Unfortunately, not everyone is onboard with this Cinderella story and are not buying the whole “Jenny from the Block” leitmotif that fueled Ocasio-Cortez’s rise and eventual election. It was “revealed” that she lived in the wealthy, predominantly white enclave of Yorktown Heights from the time she was five up until she left for college. Right wing television pundits, such as John Cardillo sought to undermine her working class authenticity by pointing out this fact. Cardillo also claims that she went to Brown, an ivy league school, when she actually went to Boston University.
Here are the facts regarding her history of residence: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born and raised in the Parkchester area of the Bronx until the age of five. Then in search of better schooling, her parents, a Bronxite father and Puerto Rican immigrant mother, moved and she lived in Yorktown Heights. She lived there until she was a high school senior and left to attend college in Boston. After four years at Boston University, she graduated and moved back to the Bronx.
Let us review even further, shall we? Ocasio-Cortez will be 29 years old in October. Referencing the aforementioned history of residence above, she spent twelve years in the Bronx, thirteen years in Yorktown Heights and four years in Boston. Her father, an architect, and her mother, a custodial worker, moved to Yorktown Heights in search of better schooling. There she excelled—she won second place globally in Microbiology at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair—and was able to get into a decent college. During her sophomore year of college, her father passed away from cancer. Right after graduating, Ocasio-Cortez returned to Bronx where she worked two jobs, to help fill the financial void her father left and co-founded a children’s book publishing company. She also worked as a campaign organizer for Bernie Sanders.
Now, I admit that I am late to the party but as I review the most pertinent details it seems like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the perfect working class politician; and these attempts to assassinate her character and depict her as a fraud are disheartening. They are mentioning where she lived without also mentioning how hard her parents had to work to get there. They fail to mention how hard she worked in her own right to build on their efforts. The attempts to discredit Ocasio-Cortez’s upbringing and the effort she has put into getting where she is today are indications of how threatened the establishment may feel by her presence.
I am from the South Bronx—born, raised and live. It is the poorest district in America. The U.S. Census Bureau finds that 38% of the population lives below poverty line. The schooling in the district is subpar. Although it is a culturally rich district to live in, many families often leave to find better educational opportunities for their children; and upon doing so, their Bronx card is not revoked. In our eyes, Ocasio-Cortez seized the opportunities that her parents worked hard to provide for her and came back to her hometown to benefit her community with what she has learned. In our eyes, she is the American Dream, not a privileged poser using the Bronx to propel her political career. Being a woman of color, Ocasio-Cortez has instantly become a torchbearer for young women of color, a commonly ignored demographic who feels voiceless and unheard by this society. She is in position to have a cultural impact that can resonate far beyond politics. She already has an asteroid name after her.
Ocasio-Cortez brilliantly rebutted her detractors by stating that she was elected because of her work ethic and policies and not simply because she was born in the Bronx. Like any politician she sought to work an angle, but it is her dedication to her demographic not her Bronx roots that moved voters to back Ocasio-Cortez. Medicare for all, immigration, a $15 minimum wage… the young politician is aligning herself with causes that concern the working poor. Her Bronx roots are merely a plus in most voters’ eyes.
Race, gender and class, this is what this election was about. Ocasio-Cortez’s stance on these issues is what spoke to voters. Platforms such as Fox News will try create the narrative of backlash. This could not be any further from the truth. Ocasio-Cortez may have not lived in the Bronx her whole life but even when her family sought better opportunities elsewhere, she never forgot about us—and that is what matters.
Akeem is our founder. A writer, poet, curator and profuse sweater, he is responsible for the curatorial direction and overall voice of Quiet Lunch. The Bronx native has read at venues such as the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, KGB Bar, Lovecraft and SHAG–with works published in Palabra Luminosas and LiVE MAG13. He has also curated solo and group exhibitions at numerous galleries in Chelsea, Harlem, Bushwick and Lower Manhattan.