Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Franmarie Metzler; U.S. House Office of Photography
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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Wore Hoop Earrings to Her Inauguration Proving Women Can Occupy Space Just as We Are

For a lot of women of color —Latinas and black women especially — hoop earrings holds a lot of cultural significance. With that said, it unfortunately also comes with a ton of criticism and negative stereotypes. It’s for that reason many of us at some point in our lives found ourselves hesitant to wear them — especially in professional settings. So when Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has become known for not just speaking her mind but for proudly being herself, decided to wear large hoop earrings to her inauguration into Congress on Thursday, many WOC — including myself — jumped for joy. This wasn’t just a fashion statement Ocasio-Cortez was making. This was a political statement.

In fact, she even took to Twitter to admit that her style was inspired and in honor of the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Sonia Sotomayor, who is also Puerto Rican like Ocasio-Cortez, and was advised to wear neutral-colored nail polish to her confirmation hearings and still chose to wear red.

Ocasio-Cortez received a ton of praise for wearing hoops and red lipstick to the inauguration — mostly from women of color who have experienced the stigma associated with hoop earrings. She, of course, took it a step further by also wearing all-white in honor of suffragettes, members of militant women’s organizations in the early 20th century who fought for the right to vote in public elections and originally wore all-white. She also chose to wear white in honor of Shirley Chisholm, who was the first black woman elected to the United States Congress.

As a Latina born and raised in Queens, I have experienced first hand the ignorance and the criticism often associated with hoop earrings. I wore hoops throughout most of my middle school and high school days. I was rocking them for years until college when my fellow peers — and I’m not just talking about my white friends — would refer to me as “Jenny From the Block” insinuating that my gold hoop earrings made me look “hood,” “street,” “urban” or “ghetto.” In efforts to “blend in” and have my fellow collegemates, professors, and potential employers take me seriously, I stopped wearing them. I have spoken to countless Latinas who have had very similar experiences.

Ocasio-Cortez often makes bold moves like this. In November, she wore her hair in a braided style to honor her Afro-Latina roots and was very honest about her intentional decision. It’s not just Ocasio-Cortez’s politics that make her progressive, it’s also the way she confidently challenges the status quo in government and refuses to back down. This badass Puerto Rican from the Bronx made history becoming the youngest congresswoman sworn into Congress and she’s making history in the way she’s challenged other politicians and has intentionally chosen to embrace her boldness, femininity, and individuality in an environment that demands the exact opposite.

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What can I possibly say except thank you? So many people sacrificed so much for this to happen – my mother most of all. . My mamá was born + raised in Puerto Rico. She practically raised her siblings in poverty while her own mother worked nonstop to provide food and shelter. She met my father, a Bronx boy visiting isla family, at a young age. They married + moved to NYC – she didn’t even speak English. My parents started from scratch: new languages, new life, new everything. Then came me, and they moved to start over again so I could have an education. Mami mopped floors, drove school buses, + answered phones. She did whatever she needed to do, for me. When my father died, she was left a single mother of 2, and again she had to start over. After he passed we almost lost our home, so we sold it and started over. & over. & over. . It wasn’t long ago that we felt our lives were over; that there were only so many do-overs until it was just too late, or too much to take, or we were too spiritually spent. I was scrubbing tables + scooping candle wax after restaurant shifts & falling asleep on the subway ride home. I once got pickpocketed, & everything I earned that day was stolen. That day I locked myself in a room and cried deep: I had nothing left to give, or to be. And that’s when I started over. I honestly thought as a 28 year old waitress I was too late; that the train of my fulfilled potential had left the station. . This week I was sworn in as the youngest woman in American history to serve in the United States Congress. I hope that record is broken again soon. As I raised my hand for the oath, my mother held the holy book & looked into @SpeakerPelosi’s eyes. Afterwards, the Speaker said to her “you must be so proud,” and my mother began to cry. . It was not long ago that our family’s hope was so dim it was barely an ember. Darkness taught me transformation cannot solely be an individual pursuit,but also a community trust. We must lean on others to strive on our own. . Thank you all. Whether it was late nights, hard days, pocket change, emotional investment, hard & soft skills, door knocking in the heat or petitioning in the bitter cold – we did this together.

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This is especially meaningful to women of color because regardless of if we’re in a professional setting or not, we’re constantly experiencing society trying to police our appearance. We’re constantly being told how we should or should not wear our hair — especially if it’s textured. We’re constantly told how we should dress or hide our curves and encouraged to basically white-wash our looks. We’ve even had our appearances used against us, alluding to the idea that we are incapable of doing certain jobs. If you think long and hard about this, men rarely have their appearances controlled to this degree — if at all—which further proves that regulations placed on women’s appearances stem straight out of the patriarchy. Having control over our appearance is just another way to control us and by resisting that women are seeking the freedom we demand.

I’m sure a man reading this would think to themselves “So, Ocasio-Cortez wore red lipstick and hoop earrings while being sworn into Congress. What’s the big deal?” But the truth is, the fact that he’d even have to ask himself that only speaks to his privilege. To see a young congresswoman not adhere to restricting guidelines regarding her appearance and basically sending the message that she does not give AF is a true act of resistance and rebellion. It’s making a statement that we are capable and able of occupying these spaces, whatever they may be and however we want —natural hair, red lip, hoop earrings and all!