What Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Win Means to “a Girl from The Bronx”

With her surprise defeat of incumbent Joe Crowley in the primary election in June, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is on her way to becoming the youngest woman elected to Congress. She boldly ran her campaign on a democratic socialist platform, calling to abolish ICE and provide medicaid access for all. Many commentators are predicting the millennial transformation of the Democratic Party under her leadership. Just Google her name and you will find many more distinctions that will wow you.

Most importantly to me, Ocasio-Cortez is a 28-year-old Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx. As a fellow Bronx girl, I have experienced the preconceived notions people have about us based on our appearance, style, and neighborhood roots. And as a fellow leftist feminist, I’m familiar with the way our political beliefs are often dismissed as too radical or too idealistic.

Though Ocasio-Cortez is now garnering praise for her surprise victory, many media outlets have questioned her ability to govern because of the layering of her ethnicity, age, hometown, and political ideology. According to critics, it’s still somehow surprising that women of color from working class neighborhoods are smart and capable.

In fact, some critics have even called into question her authenticity. Last week, John Cardillo, a conservative talk show host, questioned her “Bronx hood” roots by tweeting a Google Street View photo of the house she grew up in as a child. His point was to call her out as a liar, as if working class people from the Bronx cannot or should not live in a home they own.

Cardillo’s underlying assumption about the Bronx is embedded in racism and classism. His comments are part of a larger narrative of outsiders abhorrently stereotyping the Bronx and making value judgments on how working-class families look, behave, and spend their hard-earned money.

In response Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “Your attempt to strip me of my family, my story, my home, and my identity is exemplary of how scared you are of the power of all four of those things.”

It’s powerful to see Ocasio-Cortez claim her Bronx identity given the flattened stereotypes we’re used to seeing of the Bronx in the media. My beloved hometown doesn’t always have the best reputation. The Bronx is one of the country’s poorest counties. Stories of gun violence have more air time than stories of community resilience and success. New Yorkers wonder how, when, and if gentrification will thwart the outer borough or if we’re a lost cause. Access to healthy food is limited due to transportation deserts — areas where grocery stores are miles away and there’s little access to efficient public transportation.

These are structural problems. They are not inherent to our community. And they are not all that the Bronx is. The Bronx is also home to Cardi B, hip-hop, local businesses like Bronx Native, community gardens, summer concerts, and so much more. When it comes to politics, we’ve had a few champions advocate for us to thrive, but we haven’t had someone like Ocasio-Cortez speak unapologetically about our culture, our potential, and our ability to sit at the decision-making table.

Far too many elected officials avoid talking about racism, classism, and sexism, and even more shy away from designing legislation that explicitly addresses these inequities. As an outspoken democratic socialist, Ocasio-Cortez demonstrates that you can believe wholeheartedly in democracy while advocating for equitable resource distribution of a social safety net that invests in communities and combats  systemic oppression.

As a young Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx, I am motivated to pursue my own ambitious dreams for my community. I see Ocasio-Cortez as the possibility model I’ve been looking for. Her values, campaign goals, and policy positions are representative of the most pressing issues facing the Bronx. From what I see, she is not compromising herself — and her commitment to her community — to be palatable to opponents. (I mean, come on, she’s already threatened Trump with her Bronx identity).

Ocasio-Cortez is showing the whole country what progressive leadership should look like: boldly advocating for the most marginalized in your community.

Image HeaderDavid Delgado / Reuters

Amanda R. Matos, proud Nuyorican from the Bronx, NY, is the co-founder of the WomanHOOD Project, a Bronx-based youth-led organization for young women of color. She is dedicated to empowering communities of color through capacity building, political education, and civic engagement. Amanda has led community organizing and policy initiatives at Planned Parenthood of New York City and Girls for Gender Equity. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government as a Sheila C. Johnson Fellow. On her free time, Amanda eats doughnuts and watches great TV shows like Jane the Virgin and Blackish.

Amanda R. Matos is a community organizer and reproductive justice activist from the Bronx, NY.

Read more about Amanda

Join the Conversation