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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez just won a Democratic primary, and less than a year ago she was waitressing

With reports of a record-breaking number of women running for Congress this year, primary elections have garnered increased attention nationwide. This “pink wave,” as it’s been called, has been traced to the election of President Trump. The politics of these new candidates vary, but the overall goal seems singular: to make government look less homogenous and more diverse, like America itself. On Tuesday in New York, Democratic candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took that dream one step closer to reality.

A native of the Bronx, she beat the 10-term incumbent, Joe Crowley, in New York’s 14th Congressional District Democratic primary, knocking off a leader who was on track to be the next speaker of the House. Ocasio-Cortez’s victory is being hailed as a “political earthquake” — one that could soon make her the youngest member of Congress if she’s elected in November.

Progressive challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez celebrates with supporters at a victory party in the Bronx after defeating incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., on June 26, 2018, in New York. (Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images)

Ocasio-Cortez may indeed be the face of a new, more progressive Democratic Party, but where does her story originate? Here’s what you need to know. 

She was born to a Puerto Rican mom in the South Bronx.

In a video on her website, Ocasio-Cortez captures the unusual nature of her candidacy in her opening sentence: “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.” Born to working-class parents in the South Bronx (a region plagued by crime), she views this background as her greatest strength. “Every day gets harder for working families like mine to get by…,” she says. “We deserve a champion. It’s time to fight for a New York that working families can afford.”

She was a waitress and a bartender less than a year ago.

Ocasio-Cortez mentions in her video that on top of being an educator, she has also waited tables as a way to keep up on her student loan payments. After her win on Tuesday night, the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel posted a picture of her working in a Mexican restaurant less than a year ago in New York City’s Union Square. “From the bar, to destroying the Queens Democratic machine, in one year,” he wrote.

She campaigned for Bernie Sanders.

On top of her work as an educator, Ocasio-Cortez has a solid background in activism, including visiting the border, demonstrating at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, and campaigning for Bernie Sanders in 2016. The time she spent surrounded by activists convinced her to run for office — a move she called a “long shot” in May. In the wake of her win, former presidential hopeful Sanders took to Twitter to congratulate her.

She ran an unapologetically progressive campaign.

Ocasio-Cortez is a registered member of the Democratic Socialists, and her campaign revolved around the idea that every person deserves affordable housing, health insurance, and access to tuition-free college. On top of securing these rights, she’s committed to enacting a federal-jobs guarantee and bringing criminal justice reform to her neighborhood — a longtime hotbed for the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policy. In her campaign video, Ocasio-Cortez says that some of these things are easier to achieve than they seem. “It doesn’t take 100 years to do this,” she says. “It takes political courage.”

She refused to take campaign money from big corporations.

Part of what makes Ocasio-Cortez’s win so monumental — besides the fact that she’s young, a woman, and a person of color — is how little financing she took in order to seal the victory. According to CNBC, Crowley’s campaign spent 16 times what Ocasio-Cortez spent, and Crowley’s financing included huge donations from major corporations. Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that Crowley’s second-biggest donor, Blackstone, helped fund the Trump campaign and profits off of ICE detention centers.

She applauded incumbent Crowley’s service after her win. 

After celebrating her win on Tuesday night, Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter to applaud Crowley for the work he has done, and then reaffirmed her desire to make it all the way to Congress come November.

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