She’s a former refugee, a Muslim, a mom of three, and, after a galvanizing campaign, Ilhan Omar is now the first Somali-American lawmaker in the United States.
“This really was a victory for that 8-year-old in that refugee camp,” Ilhan Omar, 34, said. “This was a victory for the young woman being forced into child marriage. This was a victory for every person that’s been told they have limits on their dreams.”
Hillary Clinton failed to shatter the ultimate glass ceiling. But a number of women in the United States did just that, defying expectations and making history by securing positions in Congress, the Senate and state legislatures.
One of them was Ilhan Omar who was elected to become the state representative in District 60B in southeast Minneapolis, becoming the first Somali-American Muslim female legislator. Even more remarkable, the 34-year-old mother of three only came to the United States after fleeing the Somali civil war as a child and living in a Kenyan refugee camp.
On election day, Omar won the election with 80% of the vote. Omar’s election was also symbolic in an election year when being Muslim, Somali, a woman, and a refugee all became an excuse for slander and insult. During her victory speech, Omar reached out to the memories of her childhood to reflect on her historic win.
“This really was a victory for that 8-year-old in that refugee camp,” Omar said. “This was a victory for the young woman being forced into child marriage. This was a victory for every person that’s been told they have limits on their dreams.”
Her triumph is not hers alone: it is for young girls lingering in refugee camps like Dadaab; for boys in Mogadishu and Hargeisa; for Somali parents in Minnesota and Maine who want to see their American children become a pillar in their communities.
But most of all, her election is a win for the world. For hope.
Remembering: For a quarter of a century now, Somalia has been embroiled in a deadly civil war that has destroyed every facet of life. The country is no longer considered a failed state, but it is a fragile one, whose people are caught in the quicksand of an unending war. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, and trails in every index imaginable: from child and maternal health to education, media freedom and per capita income. With a population of over 10 million, up to 1.5 million Somalis have settled across the world since the war began. Since the early 1990’s, over 100,000 of those have made America a home away. But rather than increase the crime rate, as Trump suggested, Somalis are both rebuilding their lives in America while contributing to the progress back home. Somalis in the diaspora send an estimated $1.4 billion in remittances every year, feeding families, paying for school fees and much-needed healthcare, and directly contributing to 23% of the country’s GDP.