Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez with group of young people.

The United States of America has struggled, since the beginning of the republic, to find deep peace and reconciliation with its history of immigration and race. New voices and leadership, particularly from the recent majority change in Congress, offer optimism. Seemingly, Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez is the face of the movement. This Congress is the most race and gender diverse in the history of the country.

Then what: what does this mean?

An evening of arts and Congresswoman AOC on this topic revealed some helpful insight on the vision of the possible.  

The American political spirit is looking for a new story of the republic beyond party, beyond gender, beyond war, and beyond race.  

With valid reason and tired of failed and discriminatory policies and systems, millions have narrowed down institutional and family disenfranchisement into one simple phrase: This is America.

The better ideals and principles of this republic have inspired people and societies worldwide — including myself: a once-undocumented Queens-based immigrant and queer entrepreneur with a 510-year family history.

We look to new leaders of peace and leadership such as Congresswoman AOC to alter the political reality with elegance and transformation.

The program at the Langston Hughes Queens Library started with primarily African dancing, poetry, and music by local youth. A genius move, the best tool to disarm our heart and spirit is making palpable the seen and felt neglect by those in power and leadership in religion, business, and government.

Young people are cognizant of mass incarceration, the valid points of movements such as Black Lives Matter and #metoo, the unkind worldwide sentiment toward immigrants and refugees, the exponential inequality by those with most over those with least, and the existential threat of climate change. Appropriately, the art performance moved into a version of “Wade in the Water” highlighting through musical dance theater the shortcomings of us as a people. And finally, the introduction of Congresswoman AOC by STEP and African story circles. Ladies, queers, and gentleman: Congresswoman AOC!

Our introduction to AOC started with a poem by Langston Hughes called “Let America be America Again.”

"Let America be America again.

Let it be the dream it used to be.

Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.) 

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—

Let it be that great strong land of love

Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme

That any man be crushed by one above. 

(It never was America to me.) 

O, let my land be a land where Liberty

Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,

But opportunity is real, and life is free,

Equality is in the air we breathe.”

And the prompt for discussion was: What does America mean to you as an immigrant, as a black person?

People of all different heritages spoke about their deep roots and their conflicting sentiment growing as immigrants and minority Latinos, Bangladesh, and Afro-Latinos in this republic. It was a lively conversation of navigating identities in Queens.  People, for the first time, are moving past the shame of being African and Latino! Claiming their inherent spirit and heart for who they really are. The process of assimilation in this country can de-sensitize heritage and roots.

AOC offered the group of about 100 citizens the following reflection:

Her family taught her the value and worth of accepting her heritage and roots as she told us: “You are a descendant of African slaves and indigenous people.” And her vision for the country was possibilitarian: “America is the world waiting to be born” that has “struggled to evolve into our ideals.”

She closed by reminding us that when we “incorporate all identities as part of our identity, it becomes a map for our way forward.” Congresswoman AOC champions a political romanticism that will bridge technology, science, reason, and faith into a transformative engine for the social change and innovation that this republic needs. The conversation was an opportunity to find ORGULLO y SABOR with who we are as people. This night was an attempt to transcend the hostility of race and immigration and go beyond old constructs of assimilation.

And let America be America again: the land of free where everyone comes to make a better life. How? We will put back together this divisive and crumbling puzzle. This process of discovering our own roots is a tradition that we must immediately take on, for we are traditionalists, too. Pueblos originarios!

I believe we will. 

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About The Author

Henry Cross's picture

Henry Cross grew up in sunny Miami, Florida. Upon graduating high school, he moved to the politicized Washington, D.C. and double majored in History and Politics at the Catholic University. He served as a social studies teacher in Prince George’s County Public School in 2008-2009. In the fall of 2009, he moved to New York City to continue and grow his work in education and service.

He joined Hosh Yoga in 2011 as a teacher and Program Director. And since 2013, he founded and expanded programming for the organization with Hosh Kids and Hosh Seniors. Henry's entrepreneurial spirit helped developed the organizational, program, and financial capacity of the nonprofit to deliver self-sustaining and self-supporting health and wellness services to over 3,000 children, adults, and seniors every month in a cost-effective and fairly-priced way. And from 2014 to 2016, he participated in a philanthropic role by expanding the programming, policy, and public advocacy efforts of the Sonima Foundation as Community Relations Director.

His work has been featured by the Huffington PostElephant JournalBlog Talk RadioThe NYC Social Innovation FestivalSocial Venture Institute, and multiple Brooklyn and Queens newspapers. He is an appointed New York City official of Community Board 5 in Queens, serves on a Department of Youth and Community Development Neighborhood Advisory Board, and on the board of directors of the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association. And in 2015, Henry was selected as an business fellow and awarded Top 40 Under 40 Nonprofit Rising Star. He finds joy in his community work service everyday and loves ballroom dancing!

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