Conversation With Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. joined The Met Council, David Edelstein of The Jewish Community Council of Pelham Parkway, Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez, and Team Biaggi to distribute meals for the high holidays . (Office of Ruben Diaz Jr.)

By Nicollette Samuels

Assemblywoman and Bronx Borough President candidate Nathalia Fernandez shared her narrative and vision for the borough on October 22 with interviewer and founder of Narrative 365 and Bronx Fashion Week, Flora Montes

Fernandez is the daughter of immigrant parents, her father hails from Cuba, where he was forced to leave at just 9 years old in the early ’70s due to the strong communist regime. Her mother is from Colombia and came to the United States alone and undocumented at age 19.

Her parents grew up and met in The Bronx, where her father went to Chistopher Columbus High School and owned a business. Despite her parents and other family members’ strong roots in The Bronx, she grew up in Rockland County. It wasn’t until she was 20 years old when she and her sister would move to The Bronx and finally feel at home. “All my family that came after us from Cuba and Colombia came to the Bronx. All my weekends were here, all my summers were here, my first job was here, and it’s really where I felt I belonged because being in Rockland and going to high school in Westchester, I was the only Latina there, so to leave there and come here where it felt like home, it was always my getaway.”

During the conversation, streamed on Instagram Live, Fernandez discussed her personal experiences and political career. Although Fernandez is currently involved with politics, she says it was something she never could have imagined for herself. She graduated from Hofstra University with a degree in public relations and worked for the Big Apple Circus as a press intern.

Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez presents $30,000 of State funding to community groups.

It wasn’t until a family friend connected her with the previous assembly member, Mark Gjonaj, that she decided to help his campaign. Wanting the experience and to help her community, Fernandez did any and everything she could to help Gjonaj’s campaign by calling, volunteering, organizing, and going on the streets to spread the word that “We can improve the community together by electing leaders that believe in the things we believe in.”

After Gjonaj’s historic win, Fernandez began to rise through the ranks by becoming office manager and then chief of staff. Four years later, she was scouted by the governor’s office to be the Bronx representative for New York State in 2017. There Fernandez reached out to as many people as possible to inform them about what the governor’s office was doing and connecting the Bronx community to their resources. When Gjonaj ran and won a position in the New York City Council, his assembly seat was up for grabs. Even though Fernandez preferred to stay behind the scenes, she was convinced to run by her community, experience, and confidence in her ability to make changes.

Winning the seat to represent the New York State Assembly’s 80th District in the Bronx inspired Fernandez to reach even higher by running for Bronx Borough president. Witnessing a political shift happening in The Bronx through the success of people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, and Alessandra Biaggi, along with the announced retirement of current Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Fernandez thought this would be the perfect opportunity for her to show what she can do to give The Bronx what it needs. “I decided to try,” she says. “That should be my tagline, ‘You have to try,’ because no matter how scared you are, no matter how confident you are, no matter how unaware or uneducated you think you may be, try! Because you won’t know what the results can be unless you don’t try.”

Fernandez winning borough presidency would be a historic moment because she would be the first female and Latina president for the Bronx. “The Bronx has kind of been a stepchild for New York City,” she says. Homelessness is one of the issues she plans to address, as The Bronx has the most homeless shelters in all of New York City. Her solution to this problem is to provide more affordable housing, create a path for more home ownership, and transition homeless families into permanent housing.

Her other platforms involve better education with more after school programs, access to internet, and encouraging trade schools like the Bronx Design and Construction Academy. Her environmental plan is to protect and cherish the Bronx’s green space, as Pelham Bay Park is the largest park in the city. Some of the things Fernandez would really like to see is a ferry in the Highbridge area and more buildings like a science center and more museums.

“There are talks of gentrification and the fear of it and how we can stop it,” said Fernandez. “I don’t want to say that we can’t stop it because society will evolve, but it should evolve with our input.” To make sure that the input of The Bronx community is heard, she promotes community ownership and education so that people will be able to get well-paying jobs in order to afford home ownership and create generational wealth.

COVID-19 has hit New York City very hard over the past few months and it has affected the stability of businesses and families, creating financial strife. Fernandez encourages those who are struggling to reach out to her and talk to her so she can refer those in need to available resources such as food pantries that are servicing the community. She also encourages people to go out vote for the upcoming presidential election so that the president and federal leaders focus on providing the city with another stimulus package, allowing for important emergency resources to be financially supported in preparation for the second and third waves of the pandemic. Fernandez welcomes all in need of supplies like hand sanitizers to come and visit her office at 2018 Williamsbridge Road Bronx, NY 10461.

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