Ilhan Omar added a voice to her government that has been missing since its founding. In November 2016 with her election to the Minnesota House of Representatives, Omar became the first Somali-American Muslim legislator elected to office in the United States. But as the Mogadishu born politician explains, this is not the only voice that she brings. "I think I bring the voice of young people," says Omar, "I think I bring the voice of women in the East African community. I bring the voice of Muslims. I bring the voice of young mothers looking for opportunities.”
Omar grew up in Somalia until she was 12 years old. Forced to flee because of war, Omar spent 4 years in a refugee camp before arriving in America. She describes this time as one where she couldn’t dream because she had to focus on the day to day, on survival. But it was the dream of her grandfather that got Omar through this difficult transition and eventually inspired her to get into politics. He wanted to live under a democratic government where he “could vote and have his voice heard.” Omar inherited this dream. Today she is not only living in such a government, but also helping to create it.
As an immigrant, Muslim, Somali woman, Omar prides herself on being unapologetic and visible. She has used these characteristics for more than her own success. Sure they were important to her election and making history. However, as Omar describes, her being unapologetic and visible is also about “shifting narratives, restoring hope, and reestablishing access in our democracy.”
Omar may be the first Somali-American Muslim legislator, but she is committed to ensuring that she is not the last. Among the voices of inspiration for Omar was Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to congress. For the next generation of women, Muslims, and refugees, Ilhan Omar is a voice of inspiration.
Hazim Hardeman is a graduate student at Oxford University, where he will pursue a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Economic and Social History. He is also African Community Learning Program's intern for the #500EmpoweringAfricanStories Project.
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