Ilhan Omar, a Minneapolis community activist and former Somalian refugee, is about to become the state’s first Somali-American legislator. After defeating incumbent DFL Rep. Phyllis Kahn for the Minnesota House seat thatshe’s held for 44 years in a competitive Democratic primary, Omar faces a Republican challenger — also of Somali descent — in a heavily Democratic district in the Cedar-Riverside area. Kahn was tied for the longest-serving legislator in state history.
Born in Somalia, Omar spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to Cedar-Riverside — popularly known as Little Mogadishu — a Somali-American neighborhood near the west bank of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis. She has lived in the neighborhood for nearly two decades, where she currently serves as director of policy initiatives at Women Organizing Women, an organization that works to “empower all women, specifically first- and second-generation immigrant, regardless of political affiliation, to become engaged citizens and community leaders.”
At her victory party late Tuesday night, Omar wept while she delivered her remarks. “Tonight we made history,” she said. “Tonight marks the beginning of the future of our district, a new era of representation. Tonight is about the power of you.” Audience members cried with her and chanted, “Iman!” Omar promised that she would remain a progressive champion for the community. “It is with tremendous gratitude that I accept the nomination,” she said. “I pledge to represent you with integrity and humility.” After giving her speech in English, she repeated it in Somali.
In an interview with the AP Wednesday, Ilan said she she hopes “her victory sends a message to young women of color who are thinking about running for office that they can raise money, shatter stereotypes and win big.”