Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won New York’s 14th congressional district this November; becoming the youngest woman ever elected to Congress and an inspiration to many. Ayling pens a letter to the U.S. House of Representative member-elect writing how Ocasio-Cortez encouraged her to also fight.
Dear Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,
Your Spanish is like mine; acquired in the streets, it sounds like it was put through a strainer, and I love it.
You weren’t supposed to run for office. Mother from La Isla and dad from the South Bronx. Born in a place where zip code determines your destiny. Bearing a long, hyphenated name, peppered with r’s to roll. Working class and never had a plan to go into politics. But there you are. Eyes wide and mouth agape as you were told the news. Telling us that your victory belongs to us. It is our victory. And you couldn’t be more right.
Here you are. In my home. On my television screen, and on my timeline. Being shared, retweeted, and mentioned by my white friends and my Dominican dad. Your goals are radical and your reach is far. Is it weird for me at twenty years old to say, “When I grow up, I want to be just like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”?
As a first-generation child of immigrants, I have been tasked with proving to the world that my parents’ sacrifices were, indeed, worth it. For my upbringing, that meant strict curfews, a sleepover ban, extra practices of math, reading subject books each summer (not because I was behind, but because my parents wanted me to get ahead for class in September), parental monitoring on all electronics, and most of all, always choosing to walk the safer path. And so, I told myself I wanted to become a doctor when I was older when in reality, I wanted to write. I really thought I stood a chance against Barbara Park and her Junie B. Jones series, or Judy Blume and her wonderfully resonant young adult tales. But, mami said that was no way to make money; no way to make it out the hood. And so I retired the pen and paper to be nothing more than a hobby. I was in and out of the hospital for a bit in my younger years, and loved my doctor, so I thought that career was the next best thing. Mami approved.
First-gen American meant, luckily, first-gen college kid. First one to leave the nest. First one to have to explain to my parents that everyone’s major and career plan changes from what they thought it would be when they first started…When I told my mother that I no longer wanted to be a doctor (that I wasn’t even sure I ever really did, but rather told myself I did because I knew it would make her happy) and wanted to go to law school instead, you would think I had told her I was dropping out of school altogether. How could I do this to her, she exclaimed, after all the hard work she had put in. For a goody-two shoes like myself, disappointing my parents was a worse punishment than any time out or allowance freeze (not that those existed in our household, anyhow). Nevertheless, whether it was being away from home or the difficulty of having to figure out all things college on my own, or a combination of both, I was resolute and unwavering in my decision. I would go on to become an immigration lawyer and help my people. Shouldn’t she be proud of that, I implored more so than asked.
Even that career change felt (and still feels) like a bit of a fabrication. Law school, though undeniably difficult and grueling, presents yet another clear-cut and safe path. In actuality, I dream of bringing my people’s voices, concerns, needs, and dreams up to the Hill. I used to be afraid to admit that because not only is it much less of a straightforward path than attending graduate school right after college, but it is not a secure or reliable choice, made even more off-putting by the fact that there were so few people who looked like me in Congress. I told myself I would never have a chance and that my head was too far into the clouds. And then you defied the odds, Alexandria. You didn’t listen when they said you weren’t “viable.” You loaded up on bodega cafecito and put in the work. You changed into your heels on the subway platform and kept pushing. You inspired me. And I cannot be happier that you reached me before it might have been too late. Before I resigned to the status quo and accepted the fate of a marginalized voice. When I told my papi, he said he’s ready to lead my campaign whenever I’m ready.
From one brown-skin, dark hair, Bronx girl to another: thank you. I am no longer afraid to say, “I want to be like you when I grow up. I want to run for office.”
Un fuerte abrazo,
Ayling Zulema Dominguez
(P.S. Ayling recently ran for class representative for the University of Chicago’s Student Government Council Class of 2019 and came out on top with 186 votes!)
Written by Ayling Zulema Dominguez
Images from Getty Images and courtesy of Ayling Zulema Dominguez
About the Writer:
Ayling Dominguez is a student at the University of Chicago, though she is proud to call New York her home. Home is where the plátanos maduros and pan dulce are, after all. A daughter of immigrants, her work explores identity, family, first-generation experiences, politics, and the crazy, difficult beauty of living between three cultures (Dominican, Mexican, and that of the U.S.).
Follow her on Instagram @aylingfromtheblock
Read some more of her work in Mural Magazine