Certain corners of the right are obsessed with the idea that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez must be faking her working-class roots. After exposing the house she grew up in and the coat on her back as proof that she’s secretly been rolling in doubloons, they’ve moved on to a new line of attack: Her name isn’t even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In high school, this lying liar who lies was known as “Sandy.”
For the past few days, conservative websites and Twitter accounts have treated the Sandy “revelation,” along with video footage and pictures of Ocasio-Cortez in high school and college, like a smoking gun. The bombshell material reveals that in addition to going by Sandy, Ocasio-Cortez attended a well-funded high school in Yorktown, New York, which is part of hoity-toity Westchester County. What’s more, as a student at Boston University, she performed in a dance video. For the right, this is more evidence that Ocasio-Cortez is not who she says she is. Never mind that she has never claimed that she grew up in poverty, only that she was born to working-class parents in the Bronx: Because she once danced in a completely appropriate and unembarrassing manner in her youth, she’s an imposter who’s unfit for office.
But why did “Sandy” strike a particular nerve? Why would anyone point to a high school nickname as proof of anything? Plenty of people have different nicknames growing up than they do as adults, for one thing. And “Sandy” is an established nickname for “Alexandria,” if a relatively uncommon one. (If you’re having trouble hearing the connection, think about the third syllable of “Alexandria.”) Could it be that Sandy, with its blond blow-out associations of Sandy in Grease and Gidget actress Sandra Dee, presents as Anglo, and certainly not the name of an “authentic” Latina from the Bronx? “Alexandria” is also not particularly associated with the Latino community, but let’s not think too much. The uproar fuels the bigger narrative that Ocasio-Cortez as we know her is an invention, a performer of oppression and even of her ethnicity—she wouldn’t be in Congress if she were who she claims she is. Sneering calls of “Sandy” are a little like the insult “Pocahontas” for Elizabeth Warren, gendered and racialized taunts that seize on a perceived history of deception to ridicule and summarily dismiss a woman with rising political power. In Warren’s case, it’s proved to be a powerful weapon for her rivals.
More broadly, at least for a subset of conservatives, Ocasio-Cortez’s true identity as “Sandy” feeds into the notion that liberals who practice identity politics feign oppression, and that therefore oppression isn’t real. How can this woman who was supposed to be busy re-enacting Oliver Twist have had the audacity to have a nickname and to participate in activities in high school and college? Somewhere, someone is scouring an elementary school yearbook for even more revelations about this new huckster in Congress, primed to feed the right’s lurid and apparently insatiable fixation on Ocasio-Cortez. We can only imagine what they’ll uncover next.