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Somali Americans Take Heart With Election of Minnesota State Legislator


Somali-born IIhan Omar, 34, a former refugee, was elected to the Minnesota state legislature, making her the country’s first Somali-American lawmaker.

Somali-born IIhan Omar, 34, a former refugee, was elected to the Minnesota state legislature, making her the country’s first Somali-American lawmaker.

Although Somali Americans saw their preferred presidential candidate lose a close race Tuesday, they can still exult in a history-making victory.

Former refugee IIhan Omar, 34, was elected to the Minnesota state legislature, making her the country's first Somali-American lawmaker.

Omar, who proudly wears the hijab in public, told supporters late Tuesday that the victory is not just for her. "My success is not only for me but for every Somali, Muslim and minority, particularly the young girls in the Dadab refugee camp where I lived before coming to the U.S.," she said.

Omar's family came to United States when she was 12, after four years living in Dadab, the world's largest refugee camp in Kenya. She now lives in Minneapolis.

Clinton supporters

Omar will represent the 60th district, located in Minneapolis, near the University of Minnesota. She was almost guaranteed to win the seat in the heavily Democratic district after winning the primary earlier this year.

Minnesota is home to the United States' largest concentration of Somali refugees and immigrants. Most of the Somalis who spoke to VOA's Somali service ahead of the election said they were backing Hillary Clinton for president because of rhetoric from Trump they considered anti-Somali.

"Here in Minnesota, you've seen firsthand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge, without your support or approval, and with some of them then joining ISIS and spreading their extremist views all over our country and all over the world," said Trump during a campaign rally in a Minneapolis airline hangar on Sunday.

“Shocked” by Trump win

"We are shocked that Trump is president but we got relief that Ilhan will be representing us at our state House of Representatives," said voter Asha Ahmed. "For me, America is my country, it is where my future and dreams always depended on and the only home for my children... (Omar’s) success means a lot to me and my family, three children and husband."

"It is like an anti-pain relief for the Somalis, who voted against Trump because of Trump's anti-Somali rhetoric that continued even to the last days of the election campaign," said Jibril Mohamed, a lecturer at Ohio State University.

Ahmed Hirsi, Omar's husband, told VOA that his family endured a long struggle and campaign to witness this day.

"It is a big historic day for us and Ilhan, a symbol and role model for many Somali refugee girls. It is a success that came through hard work and the support of our Minnesota people," he said.

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