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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Saturday her connection to her “indigenous heritage” was awakened while protesting the Dakota Access pipeline with Native American tribes at Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
Responding to a comment on Instagram, Ocasio-Cortez said she wanted to connect more with the ancestral roots of the Taíno, an indigenous people group of the Caribbean, and that American Indian tribes welcomed her as family.
“One of the things that first started awakening and connecting me in a deep to my indigenous heritage was connecting to the Lakota Sioux at Standing Rock,” Ocasio-Cortez says in the video.
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“It really just clicked that this is nuts, like, the grace that they extended to say ‘no, you are a relative,’ was really formative for me. While we may not be and come from the same exact lineage, there is a commonality to that ancestry. And it’s important for us to recognize that we were raised and we were told growing up that we were extinct, that Tainos don’t exist, and it’s really important for Puerto Ricans to understand that that narrative is being challenged right now.”
In addition to indigenous and Hispanic roots, Ocasio-Cortez, whose family emigrated to New York City from Puerto Rico, has over the years claimed to have Jewish, European and Black ancestry.
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“As is the story of Puerto Rico, we are a people that are an amalgamation,” she told a Queens synagogue in 2018. “We are no one thing. We are Black; we are indigenous; we are Spanish; we are European.”
Ocasio-Cortez said at the Hannukah service that “a very, very long time ago, generations and generations ago, my family consisted of Sephardic Jews” who escaped forced conversions at the hands of Spanish Catholics in the 16th and 17th centuries. Ocasio-Cortez is also a Catholic, which she says has informed her environmental views.
In her Instagram stories Saturday, Ocasio-Cortez explained that Taíno culture has influenced modern American culture and language without being credited, an issue she claimed is linked to colonization. As an example, she pointed to the word “Juracan,” the name of a Taíno deity of chaos and disorder, which formed the root of the word “hurricane.”
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Ocasio-Cortez is in Puerto Rico this weekend with a congressional delegation to attend forums discussing whether the U.S. territory should become a state. In Instagram posts, Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that the island’s politics are complicated. Her official position is that Puerto Ricans should determine their own status and vote on whether to seek statehood, independence, or some other arrangement, as long as it does not remain a “colonial” unincorporated U.S. territory.
Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats have released a discussion draft of the Puerto Rico Status Act, which would enable Puerto Ricans to vote on “a permanent, nonterritorial, fully self-giverning political status.”