Ilhan Omar spent four years in a refugee camp before making her way to the United States in 1997. She was born in Somalia, but at the age of eight, the dire situation during the country’s civil war forced her family out.
On Tuesday night, the 33-year-old made history by winning the Democratic Farmer Labor Party primary for a seat in the Minnesota State Legislature.
The DFL party is a major political party in Minnesota, and was formed in 1944 when the Minnesota Democratic Party and the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party merged. It’s affiliated with the national Democratic Party.
Facebook video from Omar’s campaign:
Omar defeated the 44-year incumbent Phyllis Kahn, as well as Somali-American, Mohamud Noor, to become the party nominee. If she wins the general election in November, she may be the first Muslim East African woman to hold elected office in the United States.
“Tonight we made history,” Omar told supporters after her win late Tuesday. “Tonight marks the beginning of the future of our district, a new era of representation.”
The odds are in her favor for a November win against Republican Somali-American rival, Abdimalik Askar. Minneapolis is a heavily Democratic city.
Although the presence and influence of the Somali community is growing in Minnesota, Omar said her campaign appealed to a diverse group of voters – longtime residents, students, and East Africans.
Omar hopes this will challenge stereotypes and will set an example for young women of color who aspire to run for office.
She said her background in politics began with inspiration from her grandfather who raised her.
At the age of 14, Omar acted as a translator while accompanying her grandfather to state caucuses. She later pursued a degree in political science at North Dakota State University and worked as a community activist for 10 years.
In 2014, she endured a brutal attack by eight men at the Minnesota caucus that left her with a concussion, but her passion for politics didn’t stop her from returning to run in the same district.