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The workers' struggles that led Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to victory




Just blocks from bustling Parkchester Rail Station, residents will find a Starbucks, hair salon, hair salon and Latino restaurants. (Jonnelle Marte / The Washington Post)

BRONX – When Ali Ahmed does not operate the convenience store he owns in Queens, he crosses the city as an over-driver.

The part-time job helps him to afford the mortgage and other bills for the house he bought two years ago in the Parkchester district of the Bronx. Ahmed works and lives in the 14th New York congressional district, which could soon choose the youngest woman of all time: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Ahmed says he works hard to get his bills paid and tries to create a better financial basis for his children. It is a struggle that resonates with the voters who led Ocasio-Cortez (28) to victory in the Democratic Party over Joseph Crowley.

Your electorate consists of a mass of working-class families striving for a good life in the shadow of Manhattan's extreme prosperity. In Parkchester, New Yorkers with Italian or Puerto Rican roots live together with people who have immigrated from Ecuador, Mexico, Bangladesh and other parts of the world over the past decades. Quarters in Queens, including Jackson Heights, Astoria and Sunnyside, are equally diverse.

The district offers a window into the modern economy. The financial recovery of the last decade has spurred some Americans to recover from rising house values ​​and a steady rise in the stock market. Despite nationwide record-breaking unemployment, those living on the edge of a strong economy find twice as much time just to keep up.

Ahmed, 41, moved to the Bronx Queens after more than 20 years because the rent on his apartment in Astoria, an increasingly trendy neighborhood, became too expensive.

The move made some things better and other things more complicated. He was only a few minutes from his shop. Now it takes up to an hour to get there. His bills are bigger than homeowners. But his family has more space. There is a garden. And his children, a 4-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son, are happier.

"My family is well here," he said, adding later that he believed that it would be better for his children in the long run. "I want to teach my children, I try my best," he said in a phone interview from the park while his children were playing. "I hope I do something better for them, so they can make a good career."

The shop owner said he noticed a pattern among his friends and neighbors – many people moving to cheaper places in New York City , Professionals working in Manhattan move to Queens because they are looking for lower rents. This shift praises families and immigrants like him.

"For every one-bedroom apartment, there are 15 people who want to move in, so they put pressure on you," he said. He watched as many of his friends moved from Queens to the Bronx or out of the state.

Living costs also creep around him in the Bronx. A cousin looking for apartments in the area was recently cited about $ 1,500 for a one-bedroom, said Ahmed. The same place would have cost $ 1,000 just two years ago.

The congressional district that Ocasio-Cortez would represent if elected in November in 1980 became predominantly white-skinned, nearly 50 percent Hispanic, 17 percent Asians and 23 percent white, according to census figures in 2016. [19659015] Some of the local residents have reached milestones that are considered to be the cornerstones of American economic success, such as owning a home, sending a child to college, and running a business. Others fight more to make ends meet and work as waiters, drivers and cashiers.

For many, life is characterized by long commutes and even longer working days. According to census data, the district has the fifth highest percentage of employees with service jobs in all congressional districts, including Washington. It is in seventh place because it has the longest average commuting time.

It is therefore not surprising that voters here were attacked by Ocasio-Cortez 'Medicare platform for everyone, free education and a livable minimum wage.


George Penn, 44, owns the Barbershop Phase One in the Parkchester district of the Bronx. He said the neighborhood had become much more diverse since he moved here from Harlem as a child. (Jonnelle Marte / The Washington Post)

In Parkchester, which is about 35 minutes by train from Grand Central Terminal, people talk in a mix of languages ​​such as English, Spanish and Bengali. On Starling Avenue, renamed Bangla Bazaar, a long pizzeria shares the street with a restaurant in Bangladesh and a Halal meat shop.

Just blocks from bustling Parkchester Rail Station, residents will find a Starbucks, hair salon, barbershop, and Latino restaurants. The "help sign" of a pharmacy at the window says that the applicants have to speak and write Spanish. A reference to the awning, which marks the pharmacy in English and Spanish, lets people know that the workers also speak "Bangla".

George Penn, owner of the Phase One bar shop on Westchester Avenue, said the neighborhood has changed dramatically since he moved here from Harlem as a child. It used to be much whiter. "There was a lot of racism," he said. But that faded as more black and Hispanic people moved into the neighborhood – a more inviting environment for his wife and children, who are black and Puerto Rican.

Penn, 44, said that higher rents and luxury developments around the city are contributing to an influx of people from other neighborhoods who need an affordable place to live. "People come from Brooklyn, Harlem – they're coming to the Bronx," he said.

But many people who live in the area feel crowded. "The only thing affordable here is the clothes," said Elsa Luna, 60, who moved to Parkchester from Ecuador two years ago to be close to her daughter and two granddaughters.

Your apartment is just a block away from a busy street with a Macy's, Marshalls and other retailers. "Everything else is expensive," Luna said in Spanish.

The family's budget is tight because she can not work because of a back injury. But they spend their time exploring the park and going to church. There are so many languages ​​spoken in the neighborhood that it can be difficult to communicate.

"My neighbor is Indian, she likes me, and she knows I like her, but we can not really say anything more besides" hello, "said Luna.


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the winner of a Democratic one Congress in New York, welcomes a passer-by in the morning after angering US Republican Joseph Crowley in the election on Tuesday. (Mark Lennihan / AP)

Affordability was a major theme on the Ocasio-Cortez platform Vogue this month, Ocasio-Cortez noted that the median price of a two-room apartment in New York has increased by 80 percent in the last three years.

"Our incomes certainly do not rise 80 percent to that and what it does is a wave of aggressive economic displacement of the communities that have always been here, "she told the magazine.

After her father died of cancer during the financial crisis, Cortez took over ahm three jobs to help her family fight foreclosure.

"In a modern, moral and prosperous society, no one in America should be too poor to live," she said on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" Thursday night.

The people in their neighborhood know only too well.

Rezwana Parvin, who moved from Bangladesh to Parkchester a year ago, says her family is struggling to survive, even though her husband works 60 to 70 hours a week cashier in a grocery store in Queens.

"He pays the rent and there is nothing left," she said, sitting with her two daughters on a bench in a small park with fountains just a few blocks from where Ocasio-Cortez lives.

Her husband is usually off on Sundays, but they usually spend their time doing laundry, shopping, and preparing for the week. "It's work, work, work," she said while feeding her 9-month-old wife.

With the changing neighborhood, crime shrank over time, Penn said. He does not see so many smashed car windows anymore, but he's worried about violent crimes. Several other residents in the area echoed his feelings, recalling stories of underground fighting or of people being hit by stray bullets.

But generally, people said they felt safe here. Bad things happen everywhere, they say fight, but there is also optimism. Penn says he thinks his neighborhood is "on the upswing."

And maybe Ocasio-Cortez could help. Penn agreed to show one of the candidate's daring blue fliers in his hair salon after a friend came in to discuss how she wanted to bring her young, pulsating energy to Congress.

"When you see, nothing really changes," he said "They say, let me try someone again."

Andrew Van Dam contributed to this report.


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