Ilhan Omar Wants to Make America Decent Again – Reid Forgrave May/June 2017 Issue


From Somalia to the Minnesota statehouse, a fresh new face in politics.

Jim Mone/AP

Inside a coffee shop in Minneapolis, Ilhan Omar grabs the cup her aide has prepared for her, takes a sip, and winces. Omar, America’s first and only Somali American lawmaker, heads to the condiment stand and adds sugar—lots of it. The aide, a recent college grad, makes a mental note: More sugar next time. That’s how Somalis take it.

Last November, Omar won a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives after knocking out the 44-year Democratic incumbent in the primary. But the sweetness of the 34-year-old’s historic victory was short-lived: Her election night festivities grew increasingly grim as the national electoral map turned red and she realized her first two-year term would be spent struggling to counterbalance a president who seemed to stand against everything she is: a black woman, a Muslim, a refugee. The next day, Omar sent her supporters an email with the subject line “Promise in the darkness.”

Less than a month later, she had a disturbing run-in with a Washington, DC, cabbie (of Nigerian origin) who called her “filthy” and “ISIS” and threatened to rip off her headscarf. (Last month, a DC judge fined the cabbie and suspended his license for 45 days for his behavior.) Then, just 24 days after her swearing-in, President Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban,” which blocked travel and immigration from Somalia and six other countries, became a new source of anxiety for her constituents—and her family. Trump was on the TV as she rushed out the door this morning, Omar tells me. Her four-year-old daughter turned off the set. “He doesn’t want us in his home, so we don’t want him in our home,” the girl said.

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