Fierce

She’s Running: Meet Amanda Farias, The Bronx Puerto Rican-Dominican Vying For New York City Council

Courtesy of Amanda Farias

In 2017, right before young women of color across the country gained mainstream attention for their historic political campaigns, Amanda Farias ran for New York City Council. She didn’t win, but she did come in behind Councilman Rubén Díaz Sr., a longtime politician with vast name recognition, and that alone was a feat for the then-28-year-old, her community and the Black and brown 20-somethings her race inspired.

Nearly two years later, the Puerto Rican-Dominican community leader has put her hat back in the ring, now vying to succeed the man who beat her not long ago in District 18, which covers the Bronx’s Castle Hill, Clason Point, Harding Park, Soundview and Parkchester.

“I always knew I was going to run again,” Farias, 29, told FIERCE.

The Soundview-raised, Parkchester-living Bronx candidate — who has spent years working to get more women to run for office as the Director of Special Projects for former New York City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, the New York State Coordinator for New American Leaders and the co-founder of Women of Color for Progress — was inspired to announce her run early after recent homophobic statements made by Díaz Sr., a socially conservative Democrat who has a long history of opposing same-sex marriage and abortion and recently said he would not be “ratting out” a man who committed sexual harassment.

“That was my way of showing up: announcing, despite the rumors, I would challenge this person, because he, who doesn’t represent our values, could no longer represent us,” she said.

We chatted with Farias about her campaign, what she learned from her first race, how she intends on putting the needs of her community first in office, why New York City needs more women in government and much more.

FIERCE: Why did you decide to run for New York City Council?

Amanda Farias: So it was for a lot of different reasons. I was actually working at the New York City Council for about four and a half years and, in the middle of that, I started doing constituent casework. I was learning how city agencies work and where city agencies lack communication to the communities or what actually is happening in communities and how that is translated to the voter. Then I started managing the women’s caucus. No female elective in the council moved up in that time. Together with my then-boss, former councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, we started to think how do we create a pipeline of women into the council and what does mentorship look like. When I first started, we had 18 women. Four and a half years later, we went down to 12. We were just trying to figure out the best way to get more women in the council. In that process, my boss realized I was in a district where a council member couldn’t run for another term. She tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to run. That was never in my plans. I never thought I would be asked to run for office or view myself as someone going to run for office. I was very happy making sure the work was getting done in the background. I said no a bunch of times. Then, I did a training with New American Leaders, and there was a room filled with women of color filled with the same self-doubt I had who were already doing the work and cared about their communities and had the values to best represent them. That’s when I decided to take the plunge and run to represent my district.

FIERCE: This was in 2016-2017. You’ve recently decided to run again, prompted by homophobic comments made by Councilman Rubén Díaz Sr.

Amanda Farias: Yes. So I ran in a five-way race and came in second. I was perceived as the biggest underdog, the one person no one had to pay mind to. Yet, I showed up in a big way. I knew I was going to run again, but there was no reason to really announce it so early. But seeing someone who is supposed to be our representative, not only supposed to represent my community and all of its members, but also someone who is supposed to be an elected official in New York City, a progressve city, a city that fights for marginalized communities, makes his comments about a group of people where we live even harder. I try to be the best ally I can be every day and I try to learn the best way to show up for LGBTQ+ communities, so to see someone who is supposed to be representing all people and ensuring our rights are protected be that disrespectful, that disconnected, especially in this political atmosphere, was horrifying to me. I couldn’t let this go without showing up again. That was my way of showing up: announcing, despite the rumors, I would challenge this person, because he, who doesn’t represent our values, could no longer represent us.

FIERCE: I know that among your priorities are job creation, infrastructure, housing, public safety and health and good government. Why are these issues particularly important in your district?

Amanda Farias: Overall, when I think of all those issues and how they connect with my community, the main theme is access. When talking about job creation, housing, good and transparent government, you’re directly talking about how voters and community members in my district do not have access to those things that make their lives better. We are in a transit desert. Our train is not ADA-compliant. These things negatively impact community members and their socioeconomic standing. Looking at an open, transparent and honest government, my district doesn’t have any democratic clubs. There is no process or organization right now, or in my entire life as far as I know, of folks trying to get community members to get out the vote and involved. There’s not groups giving them a better understanding of what it means to be a registered voter, a Democrat or even the levels of government in this convoluted system and who you can blame for your problem. If I have a pothole on my street, who do I blame for that? Transportation is a big deal for me, but so many people blame the city for the subway but really it’s under state control. But because we live in the five boroughs and the Metro is here, it’s easy to assume it’s a city responsibility. It’s about accessibility. People need to be knowledgeable on what’s impacting their daily life and how they can be an active participant in changing it.

FIERCE: In an interview with City & State you said, “my main goal is prioritizing the community and the community members and making sure they’re actually getting the resources they need, the money that they need, to be moved into the district and representation that reflects their views and ideologies and their values.” How do you intend on doing that on city council?

Amanda Farias: So there are a lot of ways a city council member can be impactful. Other than being an advocate in legislation and policies that have a lasting and direct impact in districts, you also have a budget that is super influential in bringing people and resources into the district. When I win city council, I want to see how much money is going outside the district and how to re-appropriate those funds for organizations showing up for the community. We need to ensure it’s reaching the people within our district lines. When I worked for former Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, there were times we offered up pieces of our office during nights or weekends for residents who didn’t have space to work. I want to replicate that and show up for residents in that way.

FIERCE: You are a young, second-generation Caribbean Latina woman from Soundview. What do you think your identities can bring to city council that’s fresh and needed?

Amanda Farias: I was born and raised in my district, someone that still lives in the community and goes through the same community problems and issues. My family hasn’t waged out of the district. I’m still facing the same struggles every day that my community members are facing, and I think that’s what makes me one of the best people to represent the district. I was recently telling a story to someone about my family and how there are so many communities that don’t have people, representatives, that come from the same background and same neighborhoods and are still really close to that. I feel there’s a disconnect when you have incumbents, officials, even if they’re doing great work, that don’t understand the struggles of the people, that aren’t late to work every day because of the MTA. My mom is living in a one-bedroom apartment with my two brothers. My mom doesn’t have a living room. Most of my life, I didn’t have a living room, because we couldn’t afford it, we needed another bedroom. People are living doubled or tripled up, even more now with all the families that came from Puerto Rico. This is real shit people go through and it should be a priority. I hope to do that. I think that’s what makes me different.

I’m also someone who has taken the time to learn the system, to be civically engaged. I understand the democratic process. And I didn’t leave. I want to be here. I want to make my community better and get them the representation that they deserve. People need fighters and advocates. I tried to do that in multiple capacities and I hope to keep doing that.

FIERCE: Of course, you are more than your identities. After graduating from St. John’s University with a master’s degree in political science, you started your political career mobilizing Black and Latinx communities for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, spent five years working in the New York City Council, serving as director of special projects and managing the city council’s women’s caucus, ran for New York City Council in 2017 and have since been committed to getting more women in office through your work as the New York State coordinator for New American Leaders and even co-founding Women of Color for Progress. How do you think these experiences and the insight you’ve gained through them prepared you for this office?

Amanda Farias: I think it’s kept me really humble and has kept my values at the forefront on how I move through the work that I do. I feel like these roles I’ve taken on, the work I’ve done, has shown me communities of color are lacking true representation, real people who understand real issues and make those connections. By working for New American Leaders and founding an organization to uplift women of color, it’s empowered me to make sure I’m not only moving forward in this world but reaching behind me and bringing people with me.

FIERCE: On a more personal level, what would representing your people, the teachers that taught you in public school, the service workers that feed you, the elders that offer their daily bendiciones, the families that nurture you, mean to you?

Amanda Farias: I honestly would just be extremely grateful. It’s my way of giving back. The community has sacrificed for all of us, trying to ensure we are learning things we need to learn, getting opportunities, taking advantage of them when they are in front of us. This is my way of giving back, of showing my appreciation for everyone that works so hard to help me, my family, my single mom. The community really helped me move along through school and activities and keeping me off the street, making sure I had a roof over my head. Literally, it takes a village.

FIERCE: As we discussed, this is your second time running for city council. What lessons have you learned that you think better prepared you for this race?

Amanda Farias: I will say having an all-women team kicks ass. We showed all the way up in my first race, and I was really grateful to be willing and open enough to take risks with first-time people that were willing and open to give me everything they had. So going with your gut and building a good team are two. Also, I learned to not always play nice. I was concerned a lot before. I always thought, don’t say this, don’t say that. I don’t want to be made as an abrasive, aggressive person. I don’t want to be perceived this way. I was being very politically strategic. Looking back, there are times I wish I had been more aggressive and less worried about perception. It’s a different time now. It’s my second go around. We also had some great wins in 2018, but running between 2016 and 2017, it was a lonely place for a young woman of color. I had to think strategically and about what would work best for me and the team.

FIERCE: Much of your work has been, and continues to be, in getting more women elected to public office. What does New York City gain with more women in power?

Amanda Farias: Smarter policies, equity in legislation and in budgeting. But I think the sole fact of having a woman in a room, or woman of color in a room, who has experienced something completely different from the average ratio of men in that room, uplifts half the population of the city and the nation. Getting different perspectives from women on how to look at policy or how to create budget priorities is really important. We’ve had historic pieces of legislation, like having free tampons and pads in bathrooms, because of women. It’s not like women didn’t exist before this. Menstruation is a taboo topic, yet this resource is critical to low-income or young people. When we have women in office, we think holistically. We take holistic approaches to budget items and legislation.

FIERCE: Considering this work but also that this is your second time running for office, I think you can offer a lot to young Latinas who aspire to run. Do you have a message for Latinas with political dreams but perhaps see those as unfeasible?

Amanda Farias: I would say to keep fighting. Be the luchadora that we all are, that we know that our ancestors fought for and made us to be. I love the quote, “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” That’s what I try to live by every single day. But I think on a larger scale, we need to ask for help, advice and mentorship. These things are important to ensuring we are moving forward, personally and professionally. We need to make an ask of people in our lives who want to see us do well. There are a lot of people who believe in you, so make the ask.

Read: She’s Running: Denver City Council Candidate Candi CdeBaca Says Building A City Starts With Building Up Its People

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Every Time I Go Back To The Dominican Republic, I Remember The Person I Am And Want To Be

Culture

Every Time I Go Back To The Dominican Republic, I Remember The Person I Am And Want To Be

aruni_y_photography / Instagram

Anyone traveling to the Dominican Republic this summer has likely been met with the cautionary warning; “Don’t drink anything from the minibar.” Eleven tourist deaths on the island in 2019, ranging from natural causes to counterfeit alcohol consumption, have spurred FBI and State Department investigations. Though news of flight and hotel cancellations abounded, I missed my family and refused to let fear stop me from seeing them. Since I lived to tell the tale, here are a few things I learned about my father, about myself, and about the precarious paradise that keeps calling me back.

Billy Joel and Nas have interpreted the “New York state of mind,” and if you have ever visited the Dominican Republic beyond the purpose of tourism, you’ll know that there exists a Dominican state of mind too.

Credit: Dan Gold / Unsplash

Whenever I exit Las Americas or Puerto Plata airports, humidity slaps me in the face, and my Dominican mindset is immediately activated. On this island, electricity does not run 24/7. When the electricity goes, or as we say “se fue la luz,” water doesn’t run from the tap either. All that is left to do is swap your sneakers for flip-flops, and exorcise your need for immediate gratification. It takes practice, and I re-learn this lesson with each visit.

The Dominican Republic is changing fast. 

Credit: zonacolonialrd / Instagram

There is new construction everywhere you look. I sit on the balcony chatting with my father and stare across the street trying to remember how it looked before the apartment building was constructed in that space. I can see from an open doorway on the ground level that wooden boxes are being stacked, and hauled out in front of a business. I tune out my father’s voice as I focus on the shape and size of the boxes. My Spanish needs work, and I ask my father, “Papi, what does ataúd mean?” The business slogan translates to “Quality Coffins.” I think about magic realism traditions in Latin American literature, and I am reminded that so often a country like this juxtaposes disparate images and experiences in such a casual manner. I don’t think I would be able to live across the street from a constant reminder of death anywhere else but on this incongruous island.

We drive to the countryside of El Seibo for a few days.

Credit: fedoacurd/ Instagram

My father syncs his playlist and he directs my sister what song to play next. The first song is by Boy George. I watch my father sing along, and I can’t help but think about the Dominican Republic’s homophobic culture steeped in hyper-masculinity. Same-sex marriage is not recognized on the island, and members of the LGBTQ community continue to face discrimination and violence. I talk to my sister about this later that night, and she tells me small changes are coming to the island. The city of Santo Domingo hosts inclusive events like Draguéalo, where you can even sign up for a Vogue class.

Credit: Draguelao / Facebook

My father’s playlist continues and I’m struck by his selections ranging from Taylor Swift to A.I.E. (A Mwana), a song by a 1970s group called Black Blood, featuring lyrics in Swahili.

I watched this Dominican dad jam across continents, decades, cultures, languages, and race. I realize there is so much I don’t know about him, and so often we shortchange our parents’ knowledge and experience, reducing them to stereotypes and gendered tropes.

My next lesson is on staying sexy.

                                                           Unsplash/Photo by Ardian Lumi 

After a few days in the countryside, my sister and I rent a hotel room in La Zona Colonial. We ready for a night out when she looks at my outfit and asks me, “Um, is that what you’re wearing tonight?” I thought my yellow jumpsuit was poppin’. My sister pulls out a little black dress from her overnight bag and kindly suggests I wear it. The dress is tiny. It’s skimpy. It’s super short. It’s absolutely perfect. I channel my inner Chapiadora, Goddess of Sex Appeal and Free Drinks, and dance all night. 

Growing up in the 90s, I styled myself in oversized men’s clothing. It wasn’t until that one magical summer in the Dominican Republic when the heat was too oppressive to wear jeans, so I wore—gasp—a skirt. That was the first time I felt sexy, and learned the power of sex appeal. Though I wielded that power throughout my twenties, it fell away in my thirties. Wearing my sister’s LBD I realize I still have “it,” and in the Dominican Republic, sex appeal is ageless. Be careful when you come here. You may fall in love with a local, or you may just fall in love with yourself again.

The island leaves me with one last lesson.

It comes late one night, sharing a few bottles of wine with my father and sister. No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver—the worst blind person is the one who refuses to see. I could say the current political landscape in the U.S. reflects this willful ignorance, a refusal to see; yet it is the same human experience felt across space and time.

I come away wondering about my own blind spots.

                                                            Instagram/@rensamayoa

I board my return flight thinking up ways to combat willful ignorance at home, thinking about maintaining that flexible DR state of mind and thinking about buying a little black dress. As tourism in the Dominican Republic picks up again, and unfavorable headlines drop out of the news cycle, this changing island stands in its own plurality welcoming visitors, and offering endless opportunities to teach us something new.

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Anti-Vaxxers Wear White To NY Courtroom In Reference To Argentine Mothers Whose Children Were Murdered By The Government

Things That Matter

Anti-Vaxxers Wear White To NY Courtroom In Reference To Argentine Mothers Whose Children Were Murdered By The Government

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Just two months ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that mandates vaccination for children old enough to attend schools, and participate in education with other children, unless otherwise advised by a doctor. The legislation came after the spread of misinformation about vaccines caused a series of measles outbreaks in the spring. Scientific literature based on decades worth of data from tens of thousands of children has proven vaccination safe and effective for the public.

Attorney’s Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Michael Sussman filed a class action suit for about three dozen parents who claim that vaccinating their children goes against their faith. Wednesday, Albany courtrooms were packed with over 1,000 anti-vaxxers who wanted to hear how the judge would rule in a debate around religious freedom vs. public health.

The crowd of anti-vaxxers wore white in reference to the Argentine mothers who wore white as they protested their government’s brutal killings and disappearances of their liberal children.

Credit: @GwynneFitz / Twitter

The anti-vaxxers feel that the implication of the government forcing them to vaccine their children from measles is tantamount to the Argentine government killing or “disappearing” 30,000 young, leftist political activists from existence in the 1970s. 

In April 1977, 14 mothers, wearing images of their missing children’s faces around their neck, marched around the Presidential Palace in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. They took a stand against a violent government in a defiant act to demand justice for their children.

These New York parents also feel the law doesn’t allow enough time to find proper education for their children. 

Credit: @GwynneFitz / Twitter

The demonstrators told Gothamist reporters, Gwynne Hogan and Claire Lampen, that “the new law effectively disappeared their children from the school system.” If the religious exemptions aren’t upheld, their alternative would be to homeschool their children or move to a different state.

“[We’re] hoping that our kids are granted the right to go back to school. Our children have been kicked out,” Long Island mother Amy McBride, 41, told Gothamist. “We’ve all been meeting, trying to look at curriculums, understand how to make it work, what the regulations are, understanding what it takes to actually do that…Our beliefs are steadfast and sincere and true and we’re not going to cave.”

The lawyers in the case argued that legislators demonstrated “active hostility toward religion.”

Credit: @GwynneFitz / Twitter

“[These children] are going to have nowhere to go to school…They have no idea what they are going to do with these children,” Sussman said. New York State attorney Helena Lynch refuted that claim. “The actual legislative record is so clear that the motivation was public health,” Lynch said. “The right to religious expression does not encompass the right to place others in danger.”

Lynch also expressed that legislators aren’t targeting religious groups but are genuinely “skeptical” that those choosing not to vaccinate their kids were expressing personal beliefs rather than religious ones. The crux of the argument seems to rest on public health risk for allowing the religious exemption, especially when an approximate 26,000 children would be unvaccinated in New York schools.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Senator Brad Hoylman from Manhattan, specifically wanted to eliminate the religious exemption as the key reason for the recent spread of measles.

Credit: @GwynneFitz / Twitter

You have a First Amendment right to practice your own religion, but you do not have the right to endanger your children or worse other people’s children,” he told a press conference. Already, 14 percent of pre-school aged children in Williamsburg are estimated to be unvaccinated for religious reasons or otherwise. Another 28 percent in Rockland County were unvaccinated.

The anti-vaxxers expressed that they wished New York followed in California’s suit by allowing a year for the law to take effect. But public health advocates cite a sense of urgency for public safety measures, “This needs to be done, not tomorrow, not in a week, not in a month, and not in a year,” said one activist. “It must be done immediately, the numbers are gaining strength.”

Crowds packed even this overflow room as they waited for the judge’s answer.

Credit: @GwynneFitz / Twitter

They never heard it. Judge Hartman hasn’t made her decision yet about whether to allow 26,000 unvaccinated children go to New York schools in time for school start dates just three weeks from the hearing. The anti-vaxxers want her to put a stay on the state law which would allow those children to go to school while she continues to hear the case and make a final, permanent decision.

READ: A 12-Year-Old Mexican Boy Hilariously Trolled Anti-Vaxxers In This Viral Video

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