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What Ocasio-Cortez’s Win Means to Me

Corey Torpie

Corey Torpie

Tenzin Sherpa, Columnist

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On June 26, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district. When I heard the news, I was ecstatic – a 28-year-old Latina woman had just made American political history. For months, I had followed Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign via social media and her signs in my neighborhood’s shops.

When I initially heard of her, I thought Ocasio-Cortez had great promise. In addition to her being an intersectional minority running for Congress, I agreed with her campaign platform. The issues she wants to tackle are both widespread and urgent; many are relevant to my own life, such as immigration. True, Ocasio-Cortez’s dream to abolish ICE may seem overly ambitious to some, but recent government policies resulting in the separation of immigrant families and removal of basic human rights need to be strongly opposed. When I used to see a news report with video footage of a mother or father crying into a podium, hoping to be reunited with their child, it hurt me. But by now, I’ve seen it so much I’ve become numb to it.

Ocasio-Cortez’s opinions on higher education and Medicare also hit close to home for me. When my parents first immigrated to the United States in their early twenties, they had to work to support their families back in their home country, Nepal. My mother in particular had to support her own then sick and dying mother. Because of these circumstances and through no fault of their own except familial loyalty, my parents were not able to achieve higher educations. What’s more, because of the lack of quality healthcare and resources, my mother was not able to help her mother still in Nepal. In my own life, I have seen firsthand the frustration my parents faced because of medical bills they simply could not pay all at once.

But despite Ocasio-Cortez’s platform, after learning about her competitor, Joe Crowley, I had little hope that she could win. I thought even in the 14th Congressional District, which consists of the north central area of Queens and the eastern area of the Bronx, a  community filled with immigrants and underrepresented people of color, a white man would surpass a woman because that was how things worked.

Crowley had previously been the representative of the 14th District for the last five years and a representative of the Seventh Congressional District from 1999-2013. Yet Crowley did not attend debates and did not address the concerns of the people of his home borough of Queens. Democratic clubs in Queens dropped their support for incumbent Joe Crowley because Ocasio-Cortez was seen as the better representative of the nearly 49 percent Hispanic district.

Growing up with Barack Obama as president for the majority of my childhood, I had been hopeful for both my future and the futures of other people of color. But after Trump won the 2016 presidential election, my hope plummeted. Deep in the “Trump slump”, I had little hope voters would actually turn out, come to the polls, and vote for a candidate like Ocasio-Cortez.

As election day approached, I constantly reminded my mother to vote when the time came. She had received her citizenship almost 10 years ago, but both of my parents only voted in presidential elections. It was my responsibility to teach them the importance of voting for other members of the government. I had to make sure that my parents understood that for one of the few times in their lives, they had the power to decide who would carry the weight of the country’s concerns and issues.

On June 26, my mother went to the polls and voted for Ocasio-Cortez. I, unfortunately, could not be there with her, but I called her throughout the day to make sure she voted. When I got the notification from her saying she voted, I was ecstatic. My parents, like many, work to provide for their families, leaving little time for themselves. I was so grateful that my mother took a portion of her free time to go to the polls. It made me feel like my words had some power if they had encouraged her to vote. I stared at my phone in the evening, hoping for good news, hoping that somehow the candidate I believed to be the best fit for congress would win.

When I found out Ocasio-Cortez won through news sites, I felt empowered. How could a 28-year-old Latina woman empower me and give me hope? Sure, I’m not Latina, but I am a female person of color with immigrant parents. I fall into a group of people who need to prove themselves in order to be taken the slightest bit seriously. “I have to work twice as hard to get half as far,” is a saying that I’ve heard many times, and it is one that I have said many times. Often, I hear questions like “What do you mean?” in response. It means I have to go the extra mile to get the same thing that a peer of mine may be able to get easily. It means feeling frustrated for not having my hard work pay off. It means being misunderstood or brushed off every time I try to explain what being a young woman of color is like in private institutions, in places of work, even at home. So, a 28-year-old Latina woman empowers me because she gives me hope. She’s one more minority who has made an impact in a world that does not necessarily hand opportunities to her.

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What Ocasio-Cortez’s Win Means to Me