In November 2017, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) was working at a craft cocktail bar in Manhattan. Less than a year later, she won the Democratic Party's primary election for New York's 14th congressional district, defeating the ten-term incumbent Congressman, in one of the biggest upset victories in the 2018 midterm election primaries. Within half a year of that, she beat her Republican opponent in the 2018 general election, and at age 29, became the youngest woman ever to serve in the United States Congress. As swift as this ascension was, her childhood and cultural background played a significant role in molding her world view on social issues, which she will now strive to legislate for.
AOC was born in 1989 into a working-class family. Her father was a Bronx native, and her mother was Puerto Rican. With the local area lacking a robust schooling system, Ocasio-Cortez’s extended family helped fund a move to a better school district. This was where AOC first experienced income inequality, juxtaposing New York’s poorest borough (the Bronx) with more affluent New York counties. She then went on to study economics and international relations at Boston University. As a freshman, AOC got the news of her father’s death. With an ongoing financial crisis and no will left for the family, AOCs mother cleaned homes and drove school buses, while she herself started bartending and waitressing to make ends meet.
It was during college that Ocasio-Cortez developed a penchant for community work. She volunteered for Senator Ted Kennedy, serving as an immigration case worker and handling foreign affairs. Her most significant political undertaking prior to the primary election was Bernie Sanders' 2016 nomination bid, where she worked as an organizer. That same year she participated in protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, and visited Flint, Michigan, where a contested debate was running over its poisoned public water supply.
Apart from her progressive social views, her most recent revelation was regarding her ancestry, where she revealed a recent discovery that her family descended from Sephardic Jews.
“The story goes that during the Spanish Inquisition, Jews were forced, on the exterior, to convert to Catholicism, but on the interior, they continued to be who they were, continued to practice their faith. And a strong group of people who wanted to continue living life the way they wanted to live it, decided to get on a boat and leave Spain. Some of these people ended up in Puerto Rico," Ocasio-Cortez said.
In relation to her Puerto Rican descent, AOC went onto say “we are an amalgamation, we are not one thing, we are black, indigenous, Spanish, European; we are all these things".
Her most profound and timely statement followed shortly after - "I think it all goes to show that our destinies are tied beyond our understanding, beyond even what we know. And as we learn more and more about the histories of others, our friends and neighbors, we start to uncover what we already know to be true: your destiny is mine, and my destiny is yours".
In this polarizing political, economic and social climate, Ocasio-Cortez is a breath of fresh air, and a true representative of how a diverse cultural background can help steer the conversation in the right direction.
How has your TCK background affected your stance on social issues?
AOCs life story, from humble beginnings, to congress elect.
Ocasio Cortez’s campaign, and how it snowballed into victory.
AOCs revelation of her Jewish ancestry, and how all our destinies are inherently intertwined.