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Two Close Friends On Navigating Their Relationship Across A Political Divide

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Four years ago, we had two roommates on our show who were politically divided, but they were also fast friends.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ALEX URIARTE: My name is Alex Uriarte. I'm 28 years old. I'm a congressional staffer for a member of the Democratic Party.

STEVEN CRUZ: My name's Steven Cruz. I am 26, recently turned, and I run the digital operations for a conservative outreach group.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back then, we wanted to see how they made it work. We're bringing them back to talk about how their relationship and their politics fared in what - let's face it - became even more polarizing times. Alex Uriarte, who is my niece, is now 32.

Welcome to the program.

URIARTE: Hi, Tia.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hi. And Steven Cruz is now 30.

Welcome to you.

CRUZ: Thank you for having me, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you both kind of broke up shortly after that conversation, at least in terms of being roommates. Alex, you left D.C. and you left politics. Why?

URIARTE: I did. I didn't enjoy my political life as much as I thought that I did, though I learned a lot. And I decided to pivot in my career and decided to give consulting a try.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you took a job that had nothing to do with politics, as you mentioned. Was that easier or harder as you looked at the Trump administration?

URIARTE: It was easy in D.C. to kind of know who belonged in what puzzle, but that's not true. That wasn't true when I left. I couldn't willy-nilly - where it was more difficult, willy-nilly, to just talk about what I felt was right and how I thought the world should go, I had to adopt a more diplomatic style and a more neutral tone in my professional dealings with people - in fact, omit it altogether as things got more tense and more complicated.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Steven, you were never a Trump supporter, but you were also initially not a Trump hater, necessarily. Tell me about your changing views on what happened to conservative politics. How did you navigate the post-Trump election waters?

CRUZ: I was cautiously optimistic of what was - well, potentially was going to be an administration more aligned with conservative values, which I held at the time. But I kept waking up to the reality that conservatives, and certainly Trump Republicans, did not have the best interest of people at heart. I distanced myself, kind of morally and professionally, from the Republican Party to the extent that now I am working in Democratic politics, trying to create more diverse civic and politic leadership across the country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, that is a huge shift to go from working, you know, for a very conservative organization, which is the one that you worked for, to now working in the Democratic space. What was the thing that really changed your mind?

CRUZ: If I have to pick a moment, it was looking at Melania Trump walking up the steps to Air Force One with that Army jacket that says, I don't really care, as they were going to go visit detention centers where her husband had put in - kids in cages after family separation policy was implemented. That hit very close to home for me. From that moment on, it was a nonstarter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Alex, you also saw Steven be profoundly impacted by the Black Lives Matter movement. I mean, he is Afro Latino. How was that interaction? What did you think, watching him at that moment?

URIARTE: As the height of the Black Lives Matter movement started taking hold, I started seeing him express himself more and embracing his Afro Latinoism even more than he originally did. And obviously, any of us watching the atrocities of unarmed people of color, Black people, being killed by police, that had a profound effect on everybody. But I think it moved me most watching him because he is my best friend.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you talk a little bit about that?

CRUZ: Yeah, absolutely. I had this moment of realization that our advancing, like, racial justice, civically and politically - and I just didn't think that I was doing enough. So that kind of was my own personal crucible, if you will. Like, are you doing the best that you can with the resources and experience and, you know, things at your disposal to make the world a better place?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Steven, what did you see Alex struggling with politically?

CRUZ: I think we both struggled a lot with navigating the interpersonal relationships that were put in precarious positions because you're trying to figure out, do I call this person out for being, like, quasi-fascist or at the very least ignorant to the degree that they don't see what's going on, or do I kind of let it go? Alex, to her credit, was great at managing that - to bring people along without necessarily attacking them, which was much more my shtick.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Last question - did you imagine, four years ago, that this is where you guys were going to end up? - 'cause I certainly would not have imagined it.

URIARTE: No, certainly not. I would not have imagined a world like the one that we find ourselves in today. I would not have imagined that Steven and I would be where we are today. We had big dreams four years ago, and I think that we've accomplished a lot, just not in the ways that we used to talk about in our old days.

CRUZ: The past four years have been more than a roller coaster. They've been, like, a death drop from outer space. And I never thought that I would be driven away from the party that I thought I perfectly fit in because I developed an understanding of how other people move through this world.

URIARTE: Well, the one thing that we did get right four years ago is that we've remained as tight friends as we were then as we are now. So there's that.

CRUZ: Yes, there is definitely that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Steven Cruz and Alex Uriarte. Thank you both very much.

URIARTE: Thank you, Lulu.

CRUZ: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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