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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: A Diamond Woman in A Rhinestone World

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, known as AOC, is taking the nation by storm. From taking a stand on the broken system to making the complexities of American politics more accessible through viral C-SPAN videos and Instagram stories, Ocasio-Cortez is a disruptive tour-de-force, the voice of a generation ready to take action. We are just as ready and eager for her as we are completely terrified.

I understand that her politics are not the easiest to swallow. Her political stances are not sugar-coated phrases repeated over and over like a broken record: Ocasio-Cortez is actively fighting for a Green New Deal, a 70 percent marginal tax rate on those earning over $10 million a year, abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and establishing Medicare for All. With our current political climate, criticism of Ocasio-Cortez is almost a given.

However, I cannot turn the other cheek when critics attack her clothes, home life, and even her dance moves. The political right almost obsessively nitpicks every one of Ocasio-Cortez’s “flaws.” While I can agree that part of her rise to social media fame is the comebacks she tweets in response to her critics, which fuel more backlash from conservatives, I cannot help but look beyond the Twitter fights and see a larger problem at play: when people of color — let alone women of color — enter elite spaces, they’re often attacked as undeserving or unqualified.

Most of the attacks Ocasio-Cortez has faced over the past few months fall under the umbrella of conservatives questioning her working-class background. From spending the majority of her young life in Westchester County rather than the Bronx, to her daring to wear a black blazer for her Congressional orientation because her clothes “don’t look like a girl who struggles”, she has been critiqued over almost everything. It is even worse considering that most of the headlines coming of these “discoveries” involve reporters going out of their way to find photos of her home, “leaking” videos of her dancing as a college student and taking pictures of her without her knowledge. This lack of respect is jarring, but the worst part is perhaps the fact that these reporters want to depict her as a liar. Naturally, if Ocasio-Cortez is a liar, she does not deserve to represent NY-14.

Yet, not once has Ocasio-Cortez hidden that she did not grow up in the Bronx; if anything, she actively recognizes her privilege. According to Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign website, “It was clear to her, even then, that the zip code a child was born in determined much of their destiny. The 40-minute drive represented a vastly different quality of available schooling, economic opportunity, and health outcomes.”

While she did not grow up in the streets of the Bronx, she did work and spend much of her childhood visiting family there. Ocasio-Cortez has made it clear that she intends to fight for the people of NY-14, and her ability to do so should not be dramatically altered by the fact that she went to Boston University or that she grew up in the suburbs.

Another spate of criticism comes from the fact that Ocasio-Cortez is a young woman. Despite the fact that Republican Paul Ryan was around the same age as Ocasio-Cortez when he was elected into the House of Representatives, a Fox News guest had the nerve to call her a “little girl.” Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President, referred to her as a “congresswoman who doesn’t seem to know much about anything.” These comments are the product of an intense double standard in not only politics but also any area work traditionally dominated by men, especially older men. Lastly, there is a need to prove her as unqualified for the position as representative, especially a position that, in our society, she was not supposed to have.

Overall, the criticisms thrown at Ocasio-Cortez everyday are a combination of deeply ingrained sexism and racism, as well as complete and utter fear. Naturally, Republicans are terrified of the quasi-celebrity politician, of the Latina from New York with enough spunk to inspire an entire generation and the charisma of a natural politician. Ocasio-Cortez’s existence, along with the rest of the inspiring, diverse 116th Congress, is a statement of our changing society, yet I can’t help but ask if simple representation is enough to challenge deeply rooted stigmas and stereotypes.

Whether at Carnegie Mellon University or the United States House of Representatives, people of color deal with the burden of constantly having to prove themselves in elite institutions — for now, at least. It is an ordeal that can never be put properly into words, but in Ocasio-Cortez’s case, I am relieved that she knows that she deserves to represent New York’s 14th District and that she, herself, worked for her office on Capitol Hill. While her resilience does not erase the amount of empty criticisms she receives on the daily, it does make them all seem futile.

From one Latina to another: muchos éxitos, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.