If you’ve got access to the internet and even a slight interest in politics, chances are you’ve heard of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The self-described Democratic socialist made national headlines in June 2018 after defeating longtime U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley in the Democratic congressional primary in New York, and she made them again in November 2018, when she claimed a landslide victory against Republican opponent Anthony Pappas. Ocasio-Cortez did this as a near political novice with an entirely grassroots campaign centered around health care reform, gun control, raising the federal minimum wage, and the legalization of marijuana.
Though her name is now routinely in the news, there are a few things that people might not know about the rising star of the Democratic party, including her love for yoga, the fact that she’s pretty decent in the performing arts, and her true feelings about the outcome of her congressional bid. Let’s dive into the untold truth of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
From nothing to something
Ocasio-Cortez’s life hasn’t been all smooth sailing. She was born in the Bronx where « your zip code determines your destiny, » Ocasio-Cortez said of the city in her campaign video. Her father ran a small, struggling business while her mother cleaned houses. According to her website, her parents moved to nearby Yorktown, N.Y. to gain access to better public schools. « As a result, much of her early life was spent in transit between her tight-knit extended family in the Bronx and her daily student life … The 40-minute drive represented a vastly different quality of available schooling, economic opportunity, and health outcomes. »
When her father died in 2008, things got tough again. To help her family stay afloat, Ocasio-Cortez picked up gigs in restaurants and bars. « I was shoulder to shoulder with undocumented people in the back of house, » she said (via Remezcla). In fact, Ocasio-Cortez was waiting tables and bartending just a year before winning her congressional bid, reported Business Insider, and her financial struggles continued even after winning. In a 2018 interview with The New York Times, Ocasio-Cortez told the publication that she couldn’t afford rent in Washington D.C. until her congressional salary kicked in.
A work in progress
Some people might see her as a newly minted politician, but the truth is, Ocasio-Cortez has been molding her political career for years. She attended Boston University, where she majored in economics and international relations and participated in « organizations that empower minorities. She got her first political break there, working under the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) on immigration casework and foreign affairs.
After she graduated, she moved back to her hometown and got a job as an educational director in her community, where she worked with « promising high school youth to expand their skill-sets in community leadership and social enterprise, » according to her website. In 2016, she worked on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (D-Vt.) presidential campaign as an organizer (via The New York Post). Sanders seems proud of how far she’s come, posting an excited tweet congratulating her on an « extraordinary upset victory » in the New York primary and underscoring « what progressive grassroots politics can do. »
She’s a clapback queen
Every politician has his or her haters, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is no exception. But this politician isn’t afraid to hit back when she needs to. Take the time she got into it with Donald Trump Jr. after he shared a post in December 2018 suggesting that her Democratic socialist views would lead to Americans eating dogs. She responded by calling him a « troll » and issuing an indirect threat to use her subpoena power as a member of the House of Representatives against him.
There was also the time in July 2018 when conservative news host John Cardillo claimed Ocasio-Cortez lied about her « Bronx hood upbringing. » In an attempt to prove his point, Cardillo tweeted a photo of her childhood home in Yorktown, N.Y., adding that she lived there until she attended the Ivy League Brown University. Ocasio-Cortez schooled him with some stone-cold facts. « Hey John … I didn’t go to Brown or the Ivy League. I went to [Boston University]. Try Google, » she began. Speaking about her childhood home, Ocasio-Cortez added, « It is nice. Growing up, it was a good town for working people. 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. »
Dreams of the White House?
She might be a relative rookie to the government thing, but Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reportedly has a big dream. « Her aspiration is to be the president, » said her mother, Blanca Ocasio-Cortez, to the New York Post. « She has been thinking about politics since she was a teenager. She would read historical and political books old and new. She would engage in political discussions passionately. »
Alexandria, however, pushed back on the possibility of running for president in a later interview with Vogue, telling the publication she would « never » do such a thing. Instead, she said, « I want to be the kooky old lady who brings her cats to the floor of Congress and says, ‘Here’s the right thing to do.’ I just want to be chilling with Sonia Sotomayor, wearing gold hoop earrings with a big old FU and a pretty necklace. » Who knows whether she’s serious or simply trying to get a feel for things first, but it looks like she might have at least one vote — former President Barack Obama is already a fan.
She was caught off guard by her win
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn’t just shock the world when she defeated ten-term incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley in the congressional primary — she shocked herself! Speaking to the Associated Press after her victory, the liberal activist called the outcome of the election a « surprise. » While she admitted that she thought winning was possible, Ocasio-Cortez suggested that she had qualms about whether a grassroots campaign would succeed in her community.
When asked why she thought she won, Ocasio-Cortez said she believes it was because she was « on the ground … knocking [on] a lot of doors personally … talking to members of our community … and taking up a lot of space and a lot of presence physically in the community. » Crowley, on the other hand, missed some key opportunities that may have helped his bid. Ocasio-Cortez offered her thoughts on his apparent lack of effort to Rolling Stone, telling the publication that sexism may have caused him to underestimate her. « ‘She’s uninformed, she’s young, she’s naive, she’s nothing to worry about,' » Ocasio-Cortez speculated of his attitude toward her. « I was ignored for 99.9 percent of my campaign, and I liked it that way. »
After defeating her Republican rival Anthony Pappas in the Nov. 6, 2018 midterm elections, the left-wing star, who turned 29 the month prior, became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. According to the Washington Examiner, that record was previously held by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who was elected to the House in 2014 at 30 years old.
Reflecting on her historic win and the stunning amount of votes she received (NBC News reports that she received more than 78 percent of votes while Pappas earned 13 percent), Ocasio-Cortez issued a speech about the power of getting to the polls to create change. « This is what is possible when every day people come together in the collective realization that all our actions — no matter how small or how large — are powerful, worthwhile and capable of lasting change. Words cannot express my gratitude. » Not too bad of an ending for someone who had been a bartender just a year before.
People on Capitol Hill confused her for an intern
Believe it or not, but there were actually some people who didn’t know who Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was even after her stunning victories against Crowley and Pappas, namely those on Capitol Hill. In November 2018, during orientation for incoming freshman members of Congress, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that she was repeatedly mistaken for an intern or congressional spouse, per the Washington Examiner. « People keep giving me directions to the spouse and intern events instead of the ones for members of Congress, » she said.
Upsetting? Sure. But at least she’s not alone. Democratic National Convention Vice Chair Grace Meng replied to Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet, telling her that sort of thing happens to her all the time. « I STILL get stopped in the halls and confused for a spouse or an intern. This is what happens when you’re a young [woman of color] in Congress — but it shouldn’t, » Meng tweeted. « I’m excited you’re here … Let’s work to make this the new normal. »
A college sweetheart
Ocasio-Cortez is outspoken about practically everything, except her private life, which is why you might not know she’s got a boyfriend. In an October 2018 interview with Vogue, the congresswoman briefly opened up about her beau, Riley Roberts, a red-headed web development wiz she met in « true nerdy fashion » at an event held by the dean of their school, Boston University.
According to Roberts’ LinkedIn page (via Marie Claire), he graduated from the university with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology, and also attended Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, where he obtained a degree in business administration and management. At the time of writing, he’s the head of marketing at HomeBinder.com, which helps people manage their home maintenance needs. He also works as the UX Growth Consultant for Riley UX « [helping] SaaS and subscription startups sustainably grow their monthly recurring revenue. » His biography says that in a six-year span, he helped more than 60 startups improve their businesses. You go, girl.
She has Jewish heritage
Most people know that Ocasio-Cortez is Latina, but at a Hanukkah event in 2018, she surprised the crowd with a revelation about her family history: Her ancestors were Jewish. « One of the things that [my family] discovered about ourselves is that a very, very long time ago, generations and generations ago, my family consisted of Sephardic Jews, » she told the audience, per The Washington Post. According to NBC News, these Jews are « originally from Spain or the Iberian Peninsula, » but during the Spanish Inquisition in the late 1400s, when « many people were forced to convert on the exterior to Catholicism but on the interior continued to practice their faith, » she said some of them left their countries and settled elsewhere. « Some of those people landed in Puerto Rico, » Ocasio-Cortez explained, which is from where her family descends.
While the news appeared to surprise some of the audience members in a video of the speech, there was apparently one person who had an inkling. « I knew it! I sensed it!' » Ocasio-Cortez said, teasing the person’s reaction.
The dancing machine that is Ocasio-Cortez
This Bronx girl knows how to boogie. This came to light in January 2019, when a video of her dancing back in her Boston University days circulated online. The footage, which was reportedly spread online in an attempt to damage her reputation as a serious legislator, shows her and her classmates grooving to Phoenix’s 2009 rock hit « Lisztomania » with some legendary moves courtesy of the ’80s cult classic The Breakfast Club. It was so good that even actors from the iconic film extended her personal invites into the gang.
With her footwork skills now out in the open, Ocasio-Cortez followed up with a second video that showed her busting some moves to Edwin Starr’s « War » outside her office at the Capitol. She also used the moment to toss some shade at the trolls who tried to embarrass her, captioning the post: « Wait till they find out Congresswomen dance too! » According to The Hollywood Reporter, the post is her « most-retweeted » one ever.
She’s big on self-care
Ever wonder what Ocasio-Cortez’s secret is to staying so focused and gracious? It probably has a lot to do with her self-care routine. In an Instagram Story from December 2018, the politician opened up about her regimen, saying that she’s done yoga, practiced healthy eating habits, and indulged in simple pleasures, like reading and writing, to help her wind down.
She has fallen off her routine a bit since entering politics, though. « I went from doing yoga and making wild rice and salmon dinners to eating fast food for dinner and falling asleep in my jeans and makeup, » she said (via Elite Daily). « We live in a culture where that kind of lifestyle is subtly celebrated as ‘working hard,’ but I will be the first to tell you it’s NOT CUTE and makes your life harder on the other end. » To ensure that she was her best self before starting her congressional bid in January 2019, Ocasio-Cortez concluded her social media post by describing plans for some quality R&R. That’s how it’s done.