Ilhan Omar is on the brink of making history. After beating out five other candidates in September’s primary race to represent Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, the 35-year-old Democrat, who was born in Somalia before fleeing to America with her family aged 12, is on her way to becoming the first African refugee and hijab-wearing woman to serve in Congress.
Omar filed to run for U.S. Representative from Minnesota’s 5th congressional district in June after Keith Ellison announced that he is withdrawing his bid for re-election to Congress. She will now face Republican Jennifer Zielinski in the November 6 general election. If she defeats Zielinski, she will join Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib as one of the first two Muslim women elected to the United States House of Representatives.
Omar grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp after fleeing her nation due to civil unrest. She spent four years in a camp in Mombasa before settling in Minnesota with her family in 1995, where she learned English by watching American TV. The mother of three would go on to obtain her bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations from North Dakota State University in 2011. She first started gaining traction two years ago, when she became the first Somali-American elected to a state legislature in Minnesota.
The Democrat is running on a deeply progressive platform, including access to affordable housing and health care for all, US $15 minimum wage, debt forgiveness for those struggling to pay student loans, increasing the number of refugees admitted to the United States, cutting military funding, and the abolishment of ICE and protection of DACA.
“In my last race, I talked about what my win would have meant for that 8-year-old girl in that refugee camp,” Omar said in her victory speech. “And today, I still think about her and I think about the kind of hope and optimism all of those 8-year-olds around the country and around the world get from seeing your beautiful faces elect and believe in someone like me.”