Dominican woman makes history in Harlem

“Help me to make history.”

That was Marisol Alcantara’s request to the public during her campaign and the community answered, making her the first Dominican woman to be elected female district leader in Harlem, a Democratic electoral district. The historically African-American neighborhood has a rising Latino population, and with the growth of the Dominican community, Hispanics are now the majority.

Success was an uphill battle. Alcantara was running against the legendary district leader April Tyler, who had held the position in the 70th Assembly District in West Harlem since 1993. Tyler was backed by Rep. Charles Rangel, the head of the Democratic Party in Manhattan, Assemblyman Keith Wright, City Council members Robert Jackson and Inez Dickens, and state Sen. Adriano Espaillat.

Tyler also had the support of all the Democratic clubs in Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights.

What motivated Alcantara to run?

According to the activist, everything started when she found out that in Tyler’s Democratic club and that of her mother, although most of the community was Hispanic, there were only two Latino leaders, and neither of them held an executive position.

“I got together with them and I complained,” said Alcantara, “And they told me that although there were many Latinos in the area, most of them Dominican, we didn’t count because we didn’t vote.”

Alcantara told them she was a community organizer and that she was going to run against Tyler, and she was going to mobilize local residents.

“What drove me the most was the community’s serious need for services, especially concerning housing,” said Alcantara.

“There are a lot of people here who have lived in the area for 20, 30, or 40 years, and they’re being displaced. If you walk from 125th Street to 151st, you won’t find any community agency providing social services,” she explained.

How could Alcantara win the election and by a wide margin?

“We knocked on more than 2,500 doors, and we sent Latina women a special letter telling them: ‘Help me to make history. I know what you need. I’m an immigrant, and my mother worked in factories,'” said Alcantara.

The day before the election, on Monday, September 12th, Alcantara said that the campaign focused on outreach to public housing, and they distributed pamphlets to residents in 46 buildings.

“In the morning, when it was time to vote, I realized that people had responded,” said Alceantara. “I was in front of a school and I saw the mothers voting. Even the woman who sells pastries on the corner was helping me.”

Alcantara will represent the Democratic party in the 70th Assembly District as its female leader. The district spans 125th to 151st streets, and between Amsterdam and Riverside Avenues, or the neighborhoods of Hamilton Heights and Manhattanville. According to the 2010 Census, half of the area’s Hispanic residents are Dominican.

Alcantara came to the United States when she was 8 years old. She has a Bachelor’s degree in political science from Manhattan College.

“I was the fist campaign director for Ydanis Rodríguez when he ran for the first time in 2001,” said Alcantara, who worked as a community organizer, serving workers of the 32BJ union for 8 years.

Alcantara has also been a member of Community Board 9 since 2009, and is also part of the Uniform Services, Transportation and Safety Community, the National Organization for Women, and a founding member of Dominican 2000.

When asked about her future goals, Alcantara said that for now, she is focusing on helping her community to raise awareness of how Latinos have the right to be represented in the government.

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