At one point in her life, Catalina Cruz – an immigrant from Colombia – didn’t think she’d ever get the right to vote. On Tuesday, she not only got to vote, she also became the New York State Assemby’s first formerly undocumented member.
On Tuesday, the 35-year-old Democrat defeated incumbent Ari Espinal and the Reform Party’s Bobby Kalotee. She received 87.6 percent of the votes. She’ll represent New York’s 39th Assembly District, which includes Queens neighborhoods Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst, according to NBC News.
“We were always waiting for the other shoe to drop – for the numbers to change,” Cruz told a crowd at La Gran Uruguaya, where she celebrated her victory. “But no, it didn’t happen… You knocked on doors, you made phone calls, you made donations, you helped us make it happen. This is about you; this isn’t about me.”
Cruz’s platform included affordable housing, the MTA, street cleanliness, small businesses, and, of course, immigrant rights. Cruz, who is a lawyer, first arrived in Jackson Heights at 9 years old. Her mother old tamales and empanadas to support her and her siblings. She grew up undocumented, but received citizenship after marrying her high school sweetheart.
“There are so many people who have the hopes and the dreams and are probably more qualified than I am to do this job, but they don’t get to do it because they don’t have a piece of paper,” she told NBC News.
Through her career, Cruz has shown how she’ll fight for the most disenfranchised. Working as chief of staff for Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who saw the city’s $82 billion budget, Catalina pushed for a program that provided free sanitary products. She also had a hand in the Unaccompanied Minors Initiative that protects immigrant minors from deportation, and she played a role in the IDNYC license, which grants benefits to undocumented immigrants who can’t get a driver’s license or social security number.