Ilhan Omar escaped her war-torn homeland of Somalia as a child and grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp before immigrating to the United States as a preteen. She learned English by watching American television.
Years later, she became the nation’s first and only Somali-American lawmaker when she won a seat in the Minnesota House. Now she’s aiming for another spot in history: the first Somali-American member of Congress.
Officially filed to be on the ballot for US Congress to represent #MN05. I look forward to carrying on Congressman Keith Ellison’s legacy. We have hard fights ahead and I look forward to fighting alongside the residents of District 5. pic.twitter.com/gfViWmILHd
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) June 5, 2018
She has also gained a lot of support, especially from other minorities, because of her commitment to public service and to hopefully serve as a voice to fight against President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
“My success is not only for me but for every Somali, Muslim and minority group, particularly the young girls in the Dadaab refugee camp, where I lived before coming to the U.S.,” Omar told the Daily Nation.
The withdrawal of Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, from seeking a re-election bid was what prompted Omar to run. She is confident in winning, and on Aug. 14, an election will take place to choose the Democratic Party’s nominee for the seat.
“I have proven myself to be someone who shows up, takes on the hard fight and delivers, and I am ready to do that for the people of the 5th Congressional District,” Omar said.
Supporters said she’s found other ways to connect — not just with fellow Somalis, but also the college students and other long-term Minneapolis residents she represents.
Mohamud Noor, a fellow Somali-American who lost a primary to Omar in 2016 and is now running for her legislative seat, credited her outreach on immigration issues and regular “coffee and kulan” sessions. (Kulan is the Somali word for meeting).
“People are proud of her. Because of her accomplishment, because of her commitment to the public service. She is seen as somebody, especially, people see a role model for young children, their daughters,” Noor said. “I think she will be a good fighter against the Trump administration’s immigration issues in general.”
Entering the primary is also a gamble. If she loses, she cannot run for her legislative seat again until 2020.
Somali-American Kavy Botan, who lives in Minneapolis, supported Omar’s candidacy, saying she could fight against the administration’s travel ban and be an example of Somalis for the American people. He wondered if she would be allowed on the House floor in her hijab or if Trump would give her a derisive nickname such as the one he uses to refer to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, “Pocahontas.”