It’s not often that an East African woman gets elected to public office in the U.S. But that is likely to happen after activist Ilhan Omar made history on August 9th, 2016 by winning a fiercely competitive DFL primary in a Minneapolis House district. A victory that will probably lead Ilhan Omar to win the seat in the general election this Fall.
If voted in, Omar will be the first Somali-American legislator serving in a state that is home to the largest Somali population in North America.
Born in Somalia, 33-year-old Ilhan Omar is a Somali-American activist who left her native at the age of eight. She and her family fled the 1980s Somali Civil War and took refuge in a refugee camp in neighboring Mombasa, Kenya. At age 12, she and her family arrived in Arlington, Virginia, and later moved to Minnesota.
Raised by her father and grandfather, Omar attributes much of her political and activism commitment to her grandfather, who she started taking to local caucuses as his language and cultural translator at the age of 14. “I really fell in love with this idea of having neighbors come together and make decisions in a very grassroots level, and create resolutions, and vote for the person who is going to carry the name of their party in the next election cycle,” Omar said in an interview with Fusion.
And perhaps her experience and idea of grassroots engagement is a hopeful sign to voters who said “they believed Omar could deliver change.”
From the sound of it, Omar seems ready and willing to deliver change. Speaking with Fusion about representative and reflective democracy, and eliminating racial disparities, she says: “We need to make sure we’re electing people who are bold in that and who will unapologetically address these issues of building an economy that supports everyone. Closing the opportunity gap, advancing equity for all, really being intentional about protecting our environment”.
In November, Omar will face Republican Abdimalik Askar, who is also a Somali-American.
Author: Amira Ali