Minnesota's Ilhan Omar is all the proof we need that 2016's election will go down as one of the most exceptional contests in American history, despite its virulently Islamophobic rhetoric. A survivor of Somalia's civil war, Ilhan spent four trying years in a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to the United States with her family at age 12. After settling in Minneapolis' Cedar-Riverside neighborhood — a community renowned for its dynamic economic and ethnic diversity — she went to work for Women Organizing Women, where she advocated for East African women seeking positions in civil leadership. Fast-forward to 2016: Ilhan stepped into such a role herself, winning a seat as one of Minnesota's state representatives.
Ihan's extraordinary story would be inspiring enough without the fact that she's the first Somali-American elected to a United States legislature or that she won highest number of votes, ever, in her district (though both of those are true). Fueled by her truly historic victory, she's ready to tackle the socioeconomic inequality that still hampers the upward mobility of many of her constituents.
A former refugee who has witnessed the hardships of building a new life here in the United States, she's dedicated to making sure the American dream is flexible and expansive enough to embrace everyone, especially immigrant communities like Cedar-Riverside.
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Refinery29’s original series “Behind the Headlines” takes an in-depth, human look at the policy debates dominating the global news media, from American immigration reform to the continuing struggles of Syrian refugees and Afghanistan’s lingering gender inequality crisis. Bypassing the pundits, we’re dedicated to spotlighting the stories of the people whose lives have been profoundly impacted by these issues, and believe that their voices must be heard.