Ilhan Omar is a Somali-American woman, was a refugee, and is now on the ballot to become a Representative in the House for Minnesota. Winning her district is historic in other ways, as well, ending the 44-year term of DFL Rep. Phyllis Kahn.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Omar said:
Tonight we made history. Tonight marks the beginning of the future of our district, a new era of representation. Tonight is about the power of you. It is with tremendous gratitude that I accept the nomination. I pledge to represent you with integrity and humility.
— Anti-Tribalism Movt (@movementatm) August 10, 2016
Her Twitter account describes Ilhan Omar as an, “Intersectional feminist, mom, part-time social justice crusader, full-time political junkie, candidate for MN House 60B.”
Omar’s political background started when she began attending state caucuses with her grandfather, as a cultural and language interpreter when she was just 14. The 33-year-old has ten years of experience in local politics, and a degree in political science and international studies from the University of South Dakota. She has also been the director of policy initiatives at Women Organizing Women.
She became a refugee when she was 8 years old escaping the civil war in Somolia and was in a Kenyan refugee camp for several years, knowing what it was like to be without water, food, and basic necessities. She finally arrived in Arlington, Virginia, when she was 12 and only knew three words of English, “hello,” and “shut up.” She also realized there, for the first time in her life, that she was black and that her “blackness was a cause of tension.”
It was the first time, coming from Africa, that I realized that I was black, and that my Muslim identity was a thing, and that this is the first time I realized the stigma that I carried as an immigrant and a refugee and a Muslim person who was visibly Muslim, with a headscarf. And that my blackness was a source of tension.
Her strength of character shone through in many ways over the years, including her response to being attacked — physically — by 5 men during an unruly caucus in 2014 while trying to enforce rules of order. She was concussed, bruised, and battered, but went to work the next day. She said she had to show them “they could not silence me.”
My daughter [who was 11 years old at the time] said to me, ‘Mommy it’s really important that you go back to work tomorrow morning, and that you actually arrive super early, with all your scars and everything, and people get to see you, and that they don’t get to win. They don’t get to have control over you—know what you’re capable of.’
And so I started sobbing and I knew that no matter how much pain I was in and that fact that I suffered a concussion and could barely remember my name that I needed to go to work the next day—for the people who were involved in this process, who worked with me at city hall. I was very adamant that I went to work and I sat in the committees and made sure that they saw me and that they knew that they couldn’t silence me, and that I was stronger than they think I am.
She would return in 2015, as a candidate, and win. Showing that, she is indeed stronger than they thought she was.
Perhaps, though, this statement that she made about representative democracy to Fusion speaks the loudest. Saying that in order to have a representative democracy we must also have a “reflective democracy, where you see yourself as a part of the governing body.” One where you see people who “speak to your issues,” who “look like you,” and “come from your communities.”
[P]eople who understand your issues from a level of living through your experiences, becomes really important in shifting conversations. As they say, if you are not at the table, you’re on the menu.
This is a story of the true achievement of the American dream: where a woman of color, a Muslim, and a refugee came to America and worked her way onto the ballot for the House of Representatives.
@IlhanMN Congrats Ilhan. You made proud my Two Daughters who wear Niqaab…
— Hassan Farah (@hssnfrh) August 10, 2016
Hopefully, this November we will be able to say, “welcome to the table, Ilhan Omar, you have certainly earned your seat.”
Featured image via screen capture from Twitter