Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old Latina who ran an unabashedly progressive campaign and unseated a powerful incumbent, officially became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. That’s the national context. But closer to home, Ocasio-Cortez represents the district where I grew up, and her victory is the kind of thing I’ve waited for a long time to see. So as work let out for thousands of New Yorkers on a rainy Election Day, my colleague Frida Garza and I went to visit my old neighborhood, Corona, Queens—a slice of the district who helped get her there—to see what the vibe and vote was like.
The McDonald’s I grew up getting hotcakes at had temporarily become a canvassing site. My elementary school had a stream of people flowing in and out of its doors during after-work hours, casting their ballots. And the Colombian bakery around the corner, which arguably sells the best coffee in New York, was the meeting spot for people eager to talk about what was happening around them in real time.
Over the course of the evening, as election results rolled in, we talked to voters about what Ocasio-Cortez meant for the district, and where they think we go next. These are the stories they told us.
JEZEBEL: What made you want to support Ocasio-Cortez?
JENNYFER ALMANZAR: I actually saw her campaign video on Facebook, and it just really resonated with me. Because I come from a working family, and somebody that’s running that’s from a working family, I feel like that’s—I always thought that I was out of the ordinary, like I could never be in this spot. Just the fact that she resembled me, I felt a connection. I was like, “Oh wow, there’s people like her that are running?” Before this, I never did politics, I don’t do politics in school. But she just encouraged me, you know; it’s for the people. Gotta help the working class.
Are you from the area?
No, I’m actually from Inwood. Washington Heights. 207th Street.
That’s a trip.
Yeah it’s almost two hours! It’s great because she’s doing so much. Like, I saw her today; she came in to speak to us. It’s great being a part of this campaign.
JEZEBEL: Why was it important for you to vote today?
ALICIA GAUDIN: Since the age of 18, my mother instilled in me two things, go to church and vote. So that was important for her, and so that’s what I do. This is how I grew up. Since the age of 18, when we were legally allowed to vote, the message was: Go vote. And my mom stood strong in that believe.
Do you usually vote in the midterms?
I vote all the time. I vote always, because it was instilled in me to do so. That’s how I function; this is my thing. And I’ve instilled this in my son now; I was talking to him on the phone and I said, ‘They’ll pick your pockets if you don’t vote.’ He’s 28. I’m like: Vote, vote, vote.
If Trump’s behavior gets people to come out to the polls like this, then it’s not all bad. If it’s all good, then nobody wants to come out! So if this is what his behavior gets us… It’s a positive reaction to a negative situation. People are reacting, and they’re saying we want a change. And that’s good.
JEZEBEL: Why was it important for you to come out and vote today?
LUZ MARINA RAMOS: Because we have put Democrats back in the Senate and in the House. We have to use our voice, like Latinos. So it was very important to me to vote.
Are you Latina?
I was born in Colombia, and I became a citizen here. And I have voted my whole life.
Are you familiar with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
Yes! Yes. And also Jessica Ramos [Ed. note: Ramos ran unopposed for New York State Senate.] Change is very important. We need change. Because the old Senate didn’t do much for the community.
Is there an issue from her campaign that really stands out to you?
Housing. We have a huge housing crisis. The rent is going up too much. In Lefrak, the rent goes up every six months. There’s no one standing up to the big guys.
How are you feeling about the election? Optimistic or not?
Optimistic! I’m feeling very optimistic. I believe, and I hope the Democrats will win. We need them at every level of government. I motivated some of my girlfriends to go vote, and I just ran into one outside of Lefrak who said she was very happy to have voted. There was a massive voter turnout tonight.
Everyone keeps saying they’ve seen so many people voting today!
So many. It didn’t matter that it was raining, or whether the machines were broken. Everyone [at my precinct] stayed in line. We waited an hour, hour and a half. There was only one working machine at Lefrak. But we had to do it. With everything that’s going on in the White House, it’s very important.
JEZEBEL: Did you vote today?
SHAWN SEMPLE IFILL: Yes.
Do you always vote?
Yes, I do.
Why was it important for you to vote in today’s midterm election?
I think it’s important to have our voices heard. A lot of people think you go out and vote and nothing happens, but I think something does happen. Your vote does count.
Are you familiar with the candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
Yes, I voted for her.
What about her campaign stands out to you specifically?
I think she’s someone young and new. That’s what we need. We need younger ideas, someone who is going to the office not expecting to be there for 50 years, who wants to get something done now.
Were your friends and family as motivated as you are to vote?
Yes. We even had a list that we shared about who to vote for, because most of my family is in 1199 [the National Health Care Workers’ Union]. They’re very union-oriented. I was actually just on the phone with my brother, he giving me play-by-play updates. I’m watching everything. I think we need to take back control of the House and the Senate. I’m a big supporter of Kirsten Gillibrand. And I think she’s going to win. Well, I hope she’s going to win.
Turns out, she did.