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“I am not a Somali representative. I am not a Muslim representative. I am not a millennial representative. I am not a woman representative. I am a representative who happens to have all of these marginalized identities and can understand the intersectionality of all of them in a very unique way.” — Rep. Ilhan Omar
Ilhan Omar is a representative who was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 4, 1982, into a family of military leaders, government officials, civil servants, and educators. After fleeing her homeland, which had descended (again) into civil war, she and her family spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp, before qualifying for asylum and arriving in the United States in 1995, when she was 13 years old. She became a US citizen in 2000 when she was 17 years old.
She graduated from North Dakota State University (political science and international studies) in 2011, when she was 28 years old, and spent some time as a Policy Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert Humphrey School of Business affairs. She subsequently worked as a community nutritional educator in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, and by 2012 (when she was 30) she was dabbling in politics, working as campaign manager for a state senate candidate.
The following year, she managed the campaign for Andrew Johnson, and after he was elected to Minneapolis City Council, she served as his Senior Policy Aide until 2015 (33 years old), when she became the Director of Policy Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network, an advocacy group for East African women encouraging them to enter political leadership roles. And in 2016 (34), she ran for, and was elected to, the House of Representatives, becoming the first Somali-American legislator in the country.
Pretty good (and fast) work for a poor refugee with all those intersecting marginalized identities. Was it always easy? I’m sure it was not. (She says it was not.) But I wonder where else in the world such a meteoric rise to the highest levels of power would be possible for a person such as she, one who has made so little effort to assimilate into and speak up for the country and culture that took her and her rather “complicated” family in when they had no place else to go, and which has–no doubt to a considerable extent at taxpayer expense–made such a rise possible.
She reminds me of a saying beloved by (and I think original to) the late Mr. She that “In a world of entitlement, the scarce resource is gratitude.”
What would it take, I wonder, for her to call herself “an American representative?”
Ilhan Omar turns 39 today–October 4, 2021.
*Most of the biographical information is from Wikipedia. The birth year in Wikipedia (1981) is contradicted by just about every other source, so I went with the majority opinion.Published in