“One of the most interesting things to come out of an otherwise horrifying political climate has been the emergence of the many ideological divides and sub groups that exist within the two party system. It’s not only that they are being recognized—since people’s politics have always existed on a spectrums and many of those groups have been around for decades—but that they are winning elections by actually speaking directly to the people most politicians only speak about. We have seen local elections become a subject of national debate because of platforms that are called “too radical” by both Republicans and politics as usual Democrats, as in the case of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who beat Democratic incumbent Joe Crowley on a Democratic Socialist platform. The attacks on her from politicians within her own party have left many POC wondering how exactly the values of Left differ from the Right. In response to the lack of outrage and action from Democrats many people whose communities are actually on the line are stepping up and into their power.”
One of those people is Catalina Cruz. She’s running for a State Assembly seat in Queens’ 39th District with the hopes of becoming the first elected DREAMer in New York. A win would make her only the 3rd DREAMer to be elected in the United States. Though Cruz is now a naturalized citizen, she was living undocumented for 13 years after coming to the US from Colombia when she was 9 years old.
“The original Dreamers are technically our parents, but I’m from when the Dream Act first came out before there was even DACA. I was undocumented until about 2003 or 2004, and the Dream Act originally came out in 2001. So the way that it was defined was children who came in undocumented, but were brought in by their parents, they went to school here etc. So I’m from that era,” she tells HipLatina.
Today she is running on a platform similar to Ocasio-Cortez—the abolition of ICE, free education, criminal justice reform, medicare for all—but Cruz is also pushing for reform in many ways that are specific to her district. The first thing that stood out to this reporter was her plan for undocumented seniors.
“Ideally I would want to see every single person in our state covered, but the fact that we have thousands of undocumented seniors who are using the emergency room as their primary care physician because they don’t have access to anything else is something that needs to be addressed,” she says. She’s also advocating for fixing public transit instead of just beautifying it. An issue that heavily impacts how low income people move around their city and get to work.
“I’ve developed plans that are very clear about fixing our transit system in New York City, our transit system does not function at all. You have trains that will get you to work two hours late at a time, you have an agency of authority that is spending more money on cosmetic fixes and impede the debt that they owe rather than actually addressing ridership issues. So I want to see a restructuring of all of that debt, but I have actual concrete plans,” Cruz adds.
She’s also championing wage theft, something undocumented people routinely face since many employers feel perfectly comfortable not paying people for their labor when they know they don’t have a voice. It’s something Cruz watched her mom go through as an undocumented woman.
“I had to go through a lot of hardships with my mom, she was a single mom, she had been a nurse back in Colombia, and in the States she ended up having to be a domestic worker, give out flyers on the streets, sell food, she did just about anything she could to help us survive,” she said. “That process and those years taught me a lot about perseverance, a lot about grit, a lot about wanting to fight back because she was also a victim of wage theft, we fell victim to slum landlords, and because of our lack of status—a simple paper— she was very afraid to assert her rights. That’s even assuming she knew what those rights were.”
Her mother’s experiences are what empowered her to go to college despite her status and pursue a law degree, which she says she got in part due to CUNY’s system of charging instate tuition to undocumented students. “I went to John Jay which is part of the City University of New York for my undergraduate degree in Forensic Psychology, which is actually, the CUNY system is the only system that makes it affordable for DREAMers to go to school because they charge you in state tuition. So even if you have to pay for it out of pocket, it’s in state tuition which is [more affordable]. And then I went to the City University of New York Law for my law degree” she said. Cruz has helped bring 4 million dollars in wages back to workers as a part of New York Governor Cuomo’s Taskforce To Combat Worker Exploitation where she worked for 10 years.
This of course is a stark contrast to her incumbent Aridia Espinal who is also a Democrat. Cruz says the fact that she and Espinal are both Latina is being used by another opponent who wants to make it seem like all Latina’s are the same.
“One of the tactics has been trying to pin us as if we both have progressive views and we’re one in the same, but we’re not. We could not be more different if we tried. I think the way in which we come up with our policies, the way in which we govern—if you will—and the way in which we are running is completely different,” she says. “One is more of the politics as usual candidates, and I am the people’s candidate. I am doing things to make sure that people for decades [who] have been silenced by a political system that refuses to allow them to have a voice [are given a voice].”
If there is anything we’ve learned from the 2016 election is that not all Latinos are on our side (*cough cough*20 percent of Latinos voted for trump). But the most inspiring point of Cruz’s campaign is the way she’s empowering people of all statuses and ages to get involved in the political process thereby inspiring the next generation of voters as well as creating an avenue for ineligible voters to legally participate in the campaign process.
“My campaign manager is a DREAMer” Cruz said proudly. “In collecting the signatures that we need, we pair up one registered voter with one volunteer who doesn’t have a political voice. It could be a high school student, a woman of color, a young woman of color who wants to learn more about the process, we pair them up and we send them out to get signatures together and so we’re complying with the law, while also making sure that the people who’ve never had a voice feel engaged with the process that they want to continue upon that.”
Cruz is also empowering people of all statuses and ages to get involved in the political process thereby inspiring the next generation of voters as well as creating an avenue for ineligible voters to legally participate in the campaign process. Her along with other candidates with similar views are proof that when many whispers come together it can become a rallying cry that can make real change happen. And truth be told they show us that we don’t have to put up with complacency, lukewarm advocacy, or non intersectional policy.
“Right now I’m sitting in my office and looking at two, four, five interns and two of them are too young to vote and they are here dedicating working every single day on different tasks that make sure we get it done, and we’re going to get on that ballot, and we’re going to go out and door knock and tell people that the revolution has already started and we’re part of it,” she said.