Ilhan Omar (born in 1982) is a Somali American politician from Minnesota. After the start of the civil war in 1991, she and her family left the country and spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya.
In 1995, Ilhan and her family emigrated to the United States. She was raised by her father and grandfather, who inculcated in her the importance of democracy. The Omars initially settled in Arlington, Virginia. In 1995, she and her family moved to Minneapolis, where Ilhan quickly learned English in only three months. She also began to accompany her grandfather to caucus meetings at age 14, serving as his translator.
Omar attended North Dakota State University, graduating with bachelor’s degrees in political science and international studies.
Omar began her professional career as a Community Nutrition Educator with the University of Minnesota. She served as a Campaign Manager for Kari Dzeidzik’s bid for a legislative seat in the Minnesota State Senate.
She later worked as a Campaign Manager for Andrew Johnson, as he ran for a municipal seat in Minneapolis’ Ward 12 in 2013. Following Johnson’s successful election to the Minneapolis City Council, Omar served as the Senior Policy Aide in his office from 2013 to 2015. As of September 2015, she is the Director of Policy & Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network. The association advocates for women from East Africa to take on civic and political leadership roles.
Omar presented herself as a legislative candidate on the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party (DFL) ticket for the Minnesota House of Representatives. On August 9, 2016, Omar defeated Phyllis Kahn and Mohamud Noor in the DFL primary to become the nominee for the 2016 Minnesota House election for district 60B. She later won the election in November 2016 to become the first Somali American legislator in the United States.
The Muslim Somali-American woman becomes the highest-ranking Somali elected to office in the US.
Minnesota has the nation’s largest Somali community – about 50,000 according to the US census.
Celebrating her victory, Ms Omar said she would be the “voice for the marginalised” in the state parliament.
“I think I bring the voice of young people. 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,” Minnesota Public Radio quoted her as saying.
Minneapolis’s Star Tribune newspaper described her as a “Muslim-American woman who proudly wears the hijab”, saying she had been “suddenly thrust into leadership of a rapidly emerging DFL coalition that is younger, more urban and more racially and ethnically diverse than at any time in its history”.
“I am so proud of this win because District 60B represents Minnesota at its finest,” Omar told the Star Tribune. “My neighbors and everyone here in this room represents what we as a nation want to be: united in our diversity. Longtime residents, East African immigrants and students—we came together and engaged in the political progress. We talked about the issues that concern us, and we connected on the future we want to create.”