Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Multicultural and Multifaceted

AOC 2018
Photo Credit @AOC 6:56 AM - 27 Dec 2018

There’s something unarrestable about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as if she were not bound by the same laws of physics than the rest of us. It isn’t just that she is in constant motion — speaking here or there, dancing in college (gasp!), or literally waltzing her way in to her well-deserved political office. She seems also to have mastered, in addition to the art of speaking passionately on the issues and calling it like it is, another very special skill for a politician:

Like a ninja, Ocasio-Cortez knows how to get out of the way of an opponent’s strike.

As a fresh new voice in the realm of progressive left politics, AOC (her now-popular acronym) is the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress. Her landslide victory against the Republican Anthony Pappas was only anticipated because her defeat of the Democratic incumbent and House powerhouse, Joseph Crowley, was an historic upset.

In opinions and passion, she is politically linked to her closest counterpart within her own party, an old white guy (see here). And while their shared opinions alone should be enough to make her opposition shudder — environmental protection, universal health coverage and job protection, and the dissolution of the ICE — they began, instead, by taking issue with how she looks.

AOC’s Unapologetic Entrance Onto the Political Stage

Certainly, this 28-year-old Latina has been walking into rooms far more accustomed to seeing a Bernie Sanders than an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and her opposition’s discomfort is palpable, even in a year of landmark wins for women in Congress. As in the case of so much of the backlash against women and people of color in the news, some of the first to come after AOC were the conservative fashion police.

At her inauguration, rather than getting bogged down by what the chauvinists of today have to say about her red lipstick and power suits, Ocasio-Cortez got ahead of it by tweeting her tribute to the women who raised their voices over the din of yesterday’s chauvinists, with shout-outs to the suffragettes, Justice Sotomayor, and her hometown of the Bronx.  

Whatever insinuations about her class (low) or level of commitment (frivolous) were prompted by her choice in wardrobe, they sounded all the more ridiculous when AOC pre-empted the criticism, showing her choices to be deliberate and pushing toward representation. A woman who wears bright lipstick and big earrings to work can be rightfully accused now of “dressing like a Congresswoman.”

AOC Slays the Fashion Police

Perhaps Ocasio-Cortez’ youth, or at the very least her media savvy, is her best weapon against those who insist on judging her by her cover. Those who aren’t tweeting that her style is beneath a woman in power, are overly concerned about the illogical opposite, like the male journalist who slammed Ocasio-Cortez for wearing a nice coat while championing the working class. The criticism is so absurd it has prompted her defenders to question whether it would only seem authentic had she been wearing rags.

Whatever Ocasio-Cortez chooses to wear, misogynistic journalists and trolls in comment sections throw out their opinions like a freshman soldier does grenades from his trench. It’s difficult not to rejoice when Ocasio-Cortez lobs them right back as she did with critics who took issue with a designer suit she wore for a cover shoot for Interview magazine. AOC let them work themselves into a lather and then pointed out the obvious: her wardrobe was merely on loan to her, not something she’d purchased (insert eye-roll).

If Ocasio-Cortez were a man, her sartorial choices would not be news fodder. Aside from commentary on the cost of John Edward’s haircuts during one of his unsuccessful runs for President, we don’t hear about the men. There was no avalanche of tabloid headlines on how much Harry Reid’s or Paul Ryan’s suits cost or even a proper examination of how George W. Bush was built an approachable image amongst the working class by swapping the boat shoes he was born into for a set of cowboy boots. This double standard has been in place for centuries and while we are, sadly, somehow still in the throes of it, AOC’s wit and quick Twitter-trigger has made these attacks backfire.

As readers of the political landscape and consumers of news we have a choice to make. Rather than be duped by the way the media covers our female politicians, we can choose to delve deep beneath the surface of what really bothers the establishment about this new leader (hint: it’s the same reason so many attacks on her miss their mark). How does wearing big hoop earrings impair a Congressperson from doing her job? Of course, it doesn’t. More likely she draws inspiration for her political goals from her roots in the Bronx, and those big hoops are a reminder of her commitment to working-class people.

Defending her Bronx Roots

Some journalists have chosen instead to quibble about the details of Ocasio-Cortez’ Bronx roots, making no effort to see the connection between her origins and her platform. She is the daughter of immigrants who seeks immigration reform; she grew up working class, seeks to increase employment rates; she ran a low budget campaign, seeks campaign reform.  

The argument against AOC seems to be that being born somewhere and living there an entire life is not the same as being born somewhere and then being educated somewhere else and that is absolutely true. But what is crucial about AOC’s Bronx roots is that though she left her neighborhood early and went to school in Westchester and Boston, she returned to the Bronx to live and work.

More than the experience of being born into a borough with lagging resources and opportunities, witnessing the sacrifice her family made to get her better ones is what informs AOC’s commitment to her constituents. AOC chose to return to serve the people of the Bronx and Queens and that she identifies with her experiences visiting her family there and with the distance between their lives and hers.

Being Able to Move Between Worlds Gives AOC Perspective

Her ability to move between two worlds gives Ocasio-Cortez the insight and perspective to effect change and work to balance out inequalities. Her unwavering ideals are a product of being herself a cultural amalgam. Ocasio-Cortez grew up with strong ties to her Puerto Rican identity and so it stands to reason the she has been speaking out for equal treatment for Puerto Ricans. AOC has said that Puerto Ricans are treated like “second-class citizens,” and this belief has made her sympathetic to more than just her own culture. She supports the dissolution of the ICE and is working hard toward immigration reform.

Recently, Ocasio-Cortez decided to reach even further back into her lineage, reflecting on the large number of Jews who escaped persecution from the Inquisition in Spain and emigrated in the 16th century to Puerto Rico and the rest of Latin America, making Jewish another piece of her motley identity. As usual, the press was not far behind, snapping at her ankles. AOC’s clarification, that while she was not raised Jewish she connects to every bit of the mosaic that makes up her Puerto Rican heritage, is consistent with her use of personal experience and anecdote to inform her efforts on behalf of the people of Queens and the Bronx.

Young and female, Puerto Rican from the Bronx — once you get around all the adjectives, you have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the superstar that rose into fame in less than a year and is thought by some to be one of the most influential politicians of the moment. Her many modifiers add up to an impressive ability to translate the problems of her constituents across culture and class lines. Familiar with the plight of the underdog and the marginalized, she is making it her business to fight for what she knows. Armed with both youth and humility, AOC has admitted fault when she has misspoken or still needs to learn more about a particular topic. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is just the collage politician we need to bring in the new generation of Socialist Democratic ideals from the far left closer to the center.