Since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated Rep. Joe Crowley in a stunning primary upset in New York’s 14th District last Tuesday, the 28-year-old has been a focus of Democratic energy and a magnet for critics, including some who’ve claimed that she’s misrepresenting her past.
Certain detractors, especially, have gone after the framing of her working-class Bronx roots, something she’s made a cornerstone of her campaign.
As part of her story, Ocasio-Cortez has highlighted her father’s ties to the neighborhood and emphasized her involvement in the community. “I’m an educator, an organizer, a working-class New Yorker,” she says in her campaign ad, “It’s time for one of us.”
She’s also leaned into this local connection as she’s gone after Crowley for residing outside the district — and as she’s sought to build relationships with her likely future constituents.
“I wake up every day and I’m a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx. Every single day,” she told the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd, who published a piece titled “Local Girl Makes Good” this past weekend. In the wake of the primary, Ocasio-Cortez garnered big audience laughs when she joked on Stephen Colbert’s late-night show that she’s not sure Donald Trump “knows how to deal with a girl from the Bronx.”
Now conservative critics are questioning Ocasio-Cortez’s Bronx bona fides. As per a report from the Daily Mail, after a New York Times story revealed that Ocasio-Cortez had moved to a New York suburb in Westchester County when she was 5, some conservatives have pounced on this detail in an effort to discredit her. Katrina Pierson, an adviser for Trump’s reelection campaign, was among those who suggested that the left got “duped.”
Identity politics duped the left. They got a Westchester girl that campaigned as the Bronx. lol She should be a great ally for School Choice. She did it.’It was clear to her that the zip code a child was born in determined much of their destiny’ #MAGA https://t.co/K9lEXE9oVA— Katrina Pierson (@KatrinaPierson) July 1, 2018
Others, including Breitbart’s Brandon Darby, have echoed similar questions, with Newsmax’s John Cardillo recently taking such attacks to the next level, and going so far as to tweet out a photo of Ocasio-Cortez’s childhood home alongside a post smearing her upbringing.
“This is the Yorktown Heights (very nice area) home @Ocasio2018 grew up in before going off to Ivy League Brown University,” he wrote. “A far cry from the Bronx hood upbringing she’s selling.” His post has since prompted a fierce response from Ocasio-Cortez, who quickly fact-checked his claims.
This is the Yorktown Heights (very nice area) home @Ocasio2018 grew up in before going off to Ivy League Brown University.— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) July 1, 2018
A far cry from the Bronx hood upbringing she’s selling. pic.twitter.com/xyOtZzVJII
As her first point, Ocasio-Cortez noted that she didn’t go to Brown University, she went to Boston University, which is not in the Ivy League:
3. 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.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) July 1, 2018
Ocasio-Cortez also confronted Cardillo’s assertions about her upbringing, confirming that the place he highlighted was, in fact, “nice.” “My mom scrubbed toilets so I could live here & I grew up seeing how the zip code one is born in determines much of their opportunity,” she wrote.
In Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign bio, she describes how she ultimately attended school 40 minutes away from the Bronx, but she doesn’t explicitly say that she moved to Yorktown Heights: “She ended up attending public school 40 minutes north in Yorktown, and much of her life was defined by the 40 minute commute between school and her family in the Bronx,” the bio reads. “It was clear to her, even then, that the zip code a child was born in determined much of their destiny.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s experience in both neighborhoods is also detailed in the Times story that certain critics have seized upon. As the Times notes, Ocasio-Cortez relocated to Yorktown Heights when she was a kid:
The family lived in Parkchester, a planned community of mid-rise buildings, in the same apartment where Ms. Ocasio-Cortez now lives, until Alexandria was about 5, when they moved an hour north to a modest two-bedroom house on a quiet street in Yorktown Heights, a suburb in Westchester County, in search of better schools.
“My dad had a small family business in the Bronx, and the rest of my whole family stayed there,” Ocasio-Cortez said, per the Daily Mail. “So I grew up between two worlds, shuttling between the Bronx and Yorktown most of my life.”
Ocasio-Cortez moved back to the Bronx after graduating from college and has since worked in community organizing and education.
“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,” she wrote in response to Cardillo.
Cardillo ultimately acknowledged that he was wrong about Ocasio-Cortez’s alma mater, but maintained that she was not a “girl from the Bronx.”
Beyond their back-and-forth, a number of other Twitter users have also chimed in and turned Cardillo’s original tweet into a pretty funny meme highlighting the ridiculousness of his original framing.
This is the Jundland Wastes (very nice area) home Luke Skywalker grew up in before joining a rebellion filled with senators and royalty.— Chris Taylor (@FutureBoy) July 2, 2018
A far cry from the “hive of scum and villainy” he’s been selling pic.twitter.com/D96M0FCFbj
This is the MOONBASE ALPHA (very nice area) home @Ocasio2018 grew up in before going off to Ivy League MOON UNIVERSITY.— popular comedy account “the pixelated boat” (@pixelatedboat) July 2, 2018
A far cry from the Bronx hood upbringing she’s selling. pic.twitter.com/7Hq4OGzEoq
My identity has been exposed. I am actually Captain Catherine Janeway of the USS Voyager— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) July 2, 2018
In addition to igniting conservative furor, Ocasio-Cortez’s victory has also spurred a larger debate among Democrats, prompting disagreement over whether the forces that powered her win are indicative of a broader national movement or simply confined to her district.
“I think that we’re in the middle of a movement in this country,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN last week. “That movement is going to come from the bottom up, that movement is going to come from voters. There are a lot of really exciting races with extremely similar dynamics as mine—it’s not just one district.”