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From Mogadishu to Minneapolis

Cover of This Is What America Looks
A review of This Is What America Looks Like: My Journey from Refugee to Congresswoman by Ilhan Omar

I've been super motivated this summer to read political memoirs and manifestos, starting with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's life story, This is What America Looks Like.  

Representative Omar was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, the youngest of seven and without a mother since the age of two. Her father defied patriarchal tradition and lived with his wife's family before and after her death. Ilhan's grandfather's home provided sanctuary for the family until war broke out and the extended family fled to a Kenyan refugee camp and began the process of starting their lives over in a new country. After a long and delicate process, the family arrived in the United States. 

Ilhan describes herself as a scrappy school kid in Virginia getting into fights and adjusting to American culture and North American weather as her older brothers and sisters grew up and moved away. By the time Ilhan was in high school, the family was spread out and Ilhan's grandfather was living in Iowa. Mogadishu has millions of people and Ilhan's grandfather was used to a more cosmopolitan life, so Ilhan and her father decided to resettle in Minneapolis with her grandfather where they found a larger Somali-American community. Ilhan was mildly rebellious at this time and reading about her attempts to make herself look like Beyoncé was endearing and relatable. I personally went through a Madonna phase and this seems so typically American.

Minnesota is where the family stayed. Ilhan got married and started a family of her own while enrolled in various higher education programs. Her struggles during this time led her to advocate for students, a living wage, affordable housing, universal healthcare and issues affecting immigrant communities. She's currently the Democratic representative to the liberally and racially diverse 5th Congressional District in Minneapolis and the first Somali-American, the first naturalized citizen from Africa, and the first woman of color to hold elective office from Minnesota. Her life story is a fascinating read.

Aug 19, 2020