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Minnesota Elects First Female Somali American Lawmaker


Ilhan Omar gives a victory speech after winning a key primary in Minneapolis with a goal of becoming the first Somali-American state legislator, Aug. 9, 2016. (M. Olad Hassan/VOA)

History was made this week when a 34-year-old former refugee was elected to the Minnesota state legislature.

The woman, Ilhan Omar, will become the country’s first Somali-American lawmaker.

Omar was the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidate for the legislature in Minnesota’s 60th district. She easily defeated her Republican opponent on Tuesday.

Omar told supporters Tuesday night that her victory means a lot. "My success is not only for me but for every Somali, Muslim and minority, particularly the young girls in the Dadaab refugee camp where I lived before coming to the U.S.," she said.

Ilhan Omar

Ilhan Omar

From Refugee to Representative

As a girl, Omar fled her home in Somalia because of the country’s civil war. She spent four years at the Dadaab Camp in Kenya, before moving to the United States with her family. She was 12 years old at the time.

Her family first began their new life in Arlington, Virginia, and then settled in their current home in Minneapolis.

Omar began her career as a community activist. She is currently director of policy at the Women Organizing Women Network. The group works with immigrant women, helping them become engaged citizens and community leaders.

Concerns about Trump

Minnesota is home to the largest population of Somali refugees and immigrants in the United States. Many Somalis who spoke to VOA before the election said they were supporting Hillary Clinton for president because they felt that Donald Trump was anti-Somali.

Earlier, Trump has said there are problems in Minnesota caused by poor vetting of refugees. He said there were large numbers of Somali refugees entering the state, and that this was unknown to state officials. He also said that some of the refugees had joined the Islamic State group. He accused them of spreading their extremist ideas “all over our country and all over the world.”

Asha Ahmed, a Somali American, said "We are shocked that Trump is president, but we got relief that Ilhan will be representing us at our state House of Representatives. For me, America is my country, it is where my future and dreams always depended on and the only home for my children... [Omar's] success means a lot to me and my family, three children and a husband."

Jibril Mohamed, a lecturer at Ohio State University, expressed satisfaction at Omar’s election to the Minnesota state legislature.

"It is like an anti-pain relief for the Somalis, who voted against Trump because of Trump's anti-Somali rhetoric that continued even to the last days of the election campaign," he said.

Ahmed Hirsi, Omar's husband, told VOA that the campaign was a long struggle for his family to witness this day.

"It is a big historic day for us and Ilhan, a symbol and role model for many Somali refugee girls. It is a success that came through hard work and the support of our Minnesota people," he said.

I’m Phil Dierking.

Mohamed Olad Hassan wrote this story for VOANews.com. Phil Dierking adapted his report for Learning English. He also used information from other media. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

concentration – n. a large amount of something in one place

engage – v. to get and keep someone's attention or interest​

relief – n. a pleasant and relaxed feeling that someone has when something unpleasant stops or does not happen

rhetoric – n. the art or skill of speaking or writing formally and effectively especially as a way to persuade or influence people

vet – v. to check something carefully to make sure it is acceptable

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