Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

POC Represent: How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Broke Through the Normalcy of Politics

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In June 2018, a certain Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez embodied the word “history” when she unexpectedly ended the 10-term reign of the Democrat Joseph Crowley by defeating the long-time politician during the midterm elections. She earned her spot in Congress when she was just 29 years old, making her the youngest congresswoman to ever be elected. However, unlike the usual politician’s people know, Ocasio-Cortez, often referred to as “AOC,” did not have billions of wealth nor a prominent family name to back her up. Given her age, she also did not have the “needed years” of prior experience. With that, uncertainties about her being a member of the U.S. House of Representatives are inevitable. Be that as it may, her unforeseen victory, along with the changes she brought forth to the lives of people not just in New York but in America as a whole, is a success story worth telling.

The game of life is probably the hardest to play. And while it is true that life is perfectly capable of giving us the warm fuzzies, we cannot really deny the fact that it also has its fair share of struggles and mishaps. Similar to every person who has ever lived in this chaotic world of ours, the bittersweet amalgam of life’s good and bad also perplexed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s existence. 

Photo from: Drew Angerer | Getty

As a person of color born and raised in the Bronx, which is a place located in what is known to be the land of the free, life was not, at all, easy for AOC. Her parents had to work twice as hard in order to provide for the needs of the whole family. Sergio, her father, was an architect and had his own architecture company; while her mother, Blanca, took house cleaning jobs. AOC’s dad might have owned a company, but their family was still considered a part of the working class. Nevertheless, she had a nice childhood. 

As a kid, Alexandria, or Sandy (as her family calls her), had a “jungle” inside her bedroom; every day, she would sleep and wake up in a room whose walls were graced with images and paintings of a tree and a monkey. Her weekends were also mostly spent with her dear cousins. Along their neighborhood, she and her cousins would happily play handball and purchase sweet snacks such as caramels. Holidays were also a good memory from her childhood as she grew up with her family gathering around the dining table for their Noche Buena every 25th of December. At about five years old, her parents decided to move to Westchester County because they wanted AOC and her brother to experience better education. 

“Dorky” is the word AOC would use to describe how she saw herself when she was a kid. True enough, her cousin, Rebecca Rodriguez, described her as someone who always loved and was fascinated by all things science “and would nerd out at times.” To add to the “dorky kid” narrative, AOC herself revealed that she once wanted to receive a microscope as a birthday gift. Come the year 2007, AOC was now in high school and scientists actually named an asteroid after her; 23238 Ocasio-Cortez, which has a “zero chance” of crossing paths with the planet, is located somewhere in the middle of Mars and Jupiter. And for obvious reasons, scientists did not name an asteroid after AOC just because they wanted to. This one-of-a-lifetime experience happened because her science project about the roundworms’ life span placed second in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. 

AOC achieved such accomplishments because of the support she always got from her family, especially her father who always saw how she was very much capable of achieving any dreams she had in mind because of her intelligence; her dad never failed to remind her how special she is. Ocasio-Cortez revealed that she was extremely close with her dad, and although she did not let grief get the best of her when the latter, unfortunately, succumbed to lung cancer during her sophomore year in college, AOC admitted that she felt like she also lost herself when she lost her beloved father. After all, she learned a lot of valuable things from him; her father introduced her to community organizing and was also the reason why Ocasio-Cortez always aspired to try and achieve things no matter how difficult it may get. About a week before her father’s passing, he told her to make him proud and AOC did not have any plans to disobey that. Her cousin revealed that losing Sergio “put a fire under” AOC, and so a week after the unfortunate event, she went back to Boston University more focused than she ever was.

Her gregarious dad was her introduction to community organizing, she recalls. He died when she was in college. (Courtesy Ocasio-Cortez)

Photo from: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Her father’s demise prompted AOC to be an adult before any of her mates because the fateful incident did not only affect her family emotionally, it also brought about troubles financial-wise. Their family had to fight for their Yorktown house in a local tribunal for a long period of time because it almost got retrieved numerous times. Her mom had to take another job just to make ends meet; she started driving school buses as well and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would often accompany and help her clean their neighbors’ houses. Their family tried their best to carry on with their lives and did not let financial constraints get the better of them. Come her junior year, AOC studied overseas and she became an intern and worked in the office of Ted Kennedy.

If one would look at her educational background, it should be evident how intelligent Ocasio-Cortez is; she basically aced every single thing related to her education, but due to monetary problems, AOC had a $25,000 student debt when she finished college. Nevertheless, all of her hard work paid off because she graduated cum laude with a degree in international relations and economics at Boston University in 2011. Graduating with a Latin honor means one has an advantage when it comes to landing a high-paying job in their preferred field because it definitely makes one’s resume much more interesting. However, that notion does not always become everyone’s reality. 

After finishing college, Ocasio-Cortez moved back to the Bronx in an apartment once owned by her late father and started taking on her first real job at an educational nonprofit where she assisted in cultivating curriculums for high-school students as well as initiating and spearheading summer programs in different places within the country. Also, Ocasio-Cortez saw that children who live in barrios may be more receptive to reading if they recognized themselves in the stories, so using the grant given to her, she tried to release a variety of books for children; given the reason, she wanted to release the series of books, the characters in the stories included Latinos. Unfortunately, she did not get to successfully launch the books.

Nevertheless, all the things she did and experienced on that job of hers still made Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez feel extremely rewarded, but according to her, it “did not pay the bills.” Disheartened, she resorted to taking on another job that could not only alleviate the burden of paying her bills, but also provide for her family. She became an employee of neighboring restaurants Coffee Shop and Flats Fix. During that time, she worked as a waitress and she also worked behind the bar where she would mix drinks. This unexpected turn of events brought about deep sadness within AOC. She thought about her father and the possibility of him getting disappointed if he saw how his daughter’s life turned out, but it was clear to her that she needed to make such a decision to survive. Shifting her focus on how she wanted to be as an individual, Ocasio-Cortez felt happier even though the job she had at that time was not, at all, in line with everything she had learned during her life as a student.

Photo from: Intelligencer

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Changing the Face of Politics

From 2015 to 2016, the Flat Fix taqueria became the avenue for people to exchange and express their thoughts and stands on politics, especially during the time of the 2016 presidential election. AOC was one of those who was always down for such discussions. Scott Starret was a regular at the taqueria; he also became a part of the team that was responsible for AOC’s branding when she ran for the US House of Representatives. According to him, Ocasio-Cortez’s friendliness and “infectious presence” made everyone adore her at the said restaurant. Sandy, as they would call her, did not have a hard time getting along with not just her co-workers, but also with the customers because she always had an “infectious kindness” that everyone just loves. Starret and Ocasio-Cortez would often talk about their political views and exchange life stories during lunchtime.

Furthermore, AOC would also discuss health care and politics with her co-worker, Maria Swisher, during their brunch shift; regulars interested in politics would often join the pair during the said exchange of thoughts. One particular topic they had was Bernie Sanders who was then running for the highest government position. To them, it seemed that Sanders and his campaign truly were for those who are part of the working class, and that got AOC hooked; she started to campaign for Sanders. Sanders was defeated by Hillary Clinton, who was defeated by Donald Trump. When Trump won, those who did not root for him, including AOC, felt like they were betrayed by the system and that is when she decided that they “are not going back to brunch” anymore. 

Moreover, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezs brother, Gabriel, also supported Sanders; and when Trump was elected, he thought of something that changed the trajectory of his older sister’s life. While AOC was on a trip to Standing Rock in North Dakota with two of her friends, Gabriel signed his sister up when he learned that an organization called Brand New Congress was looking for people who are from the working class and urged them to run for a position in the government. On the other hand, the trip served as an eye-opener for Alexandria. During the time that she was there, she saw multiple protests incited by Native Americans and from that, she got to reflect and see the unsung realities she deemed alarming; when she returned from the said trip, running for a position in the government became a possibility.

What’s more, on the way home, she received a call from the organization her brother signed her up for; they asked her if she really wanted to run for Congress. The sudden call scared Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and filled her mind with doubt. She also thought about the loans she had yet to pay and the situation of her family, so she took all the time she needed to really think about what her decision was going to be. But the possibility of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez saying “yes” to the matter at hand grew when she realized that Crowley, who had been a member of Congress since 1999, was lazy and disloyal to the district he was supposed to lead. Soon after, Ocasio-Cortez decided she would run for office.  

Alexandria’s campaign was successfully started with the help of volunteers. Its plans revolved around making the tuition fee for public colleges free, putting an end to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, and guaranteeing universal jobs. Despite having limited to a low budget, AOC’s team pushed through with their physical, person-to-person campaign as well as the virtual counterpart. Two filmmakers published a two-minute video that presented the everyday struggles of people from the working class as the state of the economy continues to change; in that video, AOC was introduced as the voice and the representation of the working class. Her campaign video went viral on social media and her team received donation after donation. The number of volunteers for her campaign also increased—all because a lot of people saw themselves in AOC. She gave them hope.

Photo from: Intelligencer

Eventually, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made history as she became the youngest congresswoman to be ever elected to the US House of Representatives when she defeated Joseph Crowley and Anthony Pappas just five months apart. Some might think she finally succeeded in life because she didn’t have to work as a waitress and struggle with her finances anymore. However, her success story is not really about her earning more than $100,000 a year as a congresswoman after working two jobs just to make ends meet right after college. Her success story leans more toward the fact that she, a person of color from the working class, was able to break through the normalcy of politics and was able to be the voice and represent a relatively large number of people in Congress.

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