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Minnesota elects country’s first Somali-American legislator

November 9, 2016

Ilhan Omar, a 34-year-old, hijab-wearing Muslim-American woman, has become the United States’ first Somali-American legislator after winning a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The political victory was the result of a long journey for Omar, whose family fled the Somali civil war when Omar was 8 years old and spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp before immigrating to Minneapolis. Omar defeated Rep. Phyllis Kahn — who had been the Minnesota House’s longest serving member — in a three-way primary for the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) before overcoming token Republican resistance in her predominantly liberal district.

For many, including House Minority leader Paul Thissen, the victory was a testament to the state’s diversity. “It says something important about the future of Minnesota and what it means to be a Minnesotan,” said Thissen.

Not everyone was happy with Omar’s win, however. Conservative opponents had speculated Omar had married her brother in order to commit immigration fraud. Omar, who lives with the father of her three children but is married to another man, had denounced the claims as a “political con” meant to disenfranchise members of the Somali-American community. Omar has added that she is in the midst of divorce proceedings and that her other marriage was the result of previous difficulties in her relationship with the father of her children.

Support for Omar, whose path to success began as the director of policy at the Women Organizing Women Network, an organization that works to encourage East African women to pursue leadership roles, has remained strong despite the accusations — especially in the Somali émigré community. “We’re a minority in this country,” explained Hodan Adnan, a local mother. “I am glad we see a role model for many women and students. I want a woman and someone from our community to win.”

Read the full story at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.


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