In an election that starkly divided the country on Tuesday, one result was a glimmer of hope for people who opposed Donald Trump: Minnesota elected America’s first Somali American legislator, Ilhan Omar.
The 34-year-old, who came to America as a refugee almost 20 years ago, beat out a Republican opponent to gain a seat in the state house of representatives.
“Tonight, we are celebrating this win, our win. But our work won’t stop,” she said after her victory. “We will continue to build a more prosperous and equitable district, state and nation where each and every one of us has opportunities to thrive and move forward together.”
Omar, a practicing Muslim who wears a hijab, walked a long and difficult path to election, and won in a year where Muslims faced a barrage of hate crimes and threats.
Her victory came less than a week after President-elect Donald Trump referred to Somali immigrants in the area as “a disaster” during a rally.
“Here in Minnesota, you’ve seen firsthand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with very large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge, without your support or approval,” Trump said days before the election. “Some of them [are] joining Isis and spreading their extremist views all over our country and all over the world.”
Omar came to the US when she was 14 from a refugee camp in Kenya, a country which hosts hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees. She learned English in three months and later obtained a degree in political science.
After graduating, she became a community organizer and is currently the director of policy at Women Organizing Women Network, a group which helps empower and propel east African women into civic leadership roles.
Her involvement in politics was met with resistance. Most notably, she was beaten into a concussion by seven or eight people during a heated caucus session that erupted in violence two years ago.
She still pursued politics and unexpectedly won a tight Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor party primary race against Mohamud Noor, another prominent Somali American in the community, and the Minnesota state House’s longest-serving member, Representative Phyllis Kahn.
In a year when Trump has openly called for a ban on Muslims coming to the country and refused to rule out a Muslim ID system, the prospect of a visibly Muslim woman holding office drew national attention, and also brought Omar negative scrutiny.
Conservative websites began accusing Omar of immigration fraud shortly after her primary victory, as they believed an estranged husband who she’s in the process of divorcing, is in fact her brother, a charge she has denied.
Omar became the first Muslim woman to hold office in Minnesota and will now represent Minnesota’s district 60b.
Source: The Guardian