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From Refugee Camp to Minnesota State Capital


Ilhan Omar gives a victory speech after winning a key primary in Minneapolis with a goal of becoming the first Somali-American state legislator, Aug. 9, 2016. (M. Olad Hassan/VOA)

Ilhan Omar gives a victory speech after winning a key primary in Minneapolis with a goal of becoming the first Somali-American state legislator, Aug. 9, 2016. (M. Olad Hassan/VOA)

A Minnesota woman is positioned to become the first Somali-American state legislator after winning a key primary Tuesday in Minneapolis.

Ilhan Omar won the primary for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party, defeating Phyllis Kahn, who has served as state legislator for 40 years.

Omar is likely to win the November election in the largely liberal district.

"The fact that we made relentless campaigns and for Allah's sake, we finally made it," Omar told VOA's Somali service after her victory was announced Tuesday night. "We worked very hard to unite our district people and their votes."

Wiping away tears, Omar was greeted by Somali and non-Somali supporters as she walked into her victory party, and chants of "Ilhan" rang out.

Speaking to the crowd, Omar said, "Tonight we made history and it marks the beginning of the future of our district, a new era of representation. Tonight is about the power of you."

Afterward, she gave another victory speech in Somali.

Hafsa Muse Nuh, one of Omar's supporters said, "It is an amazing moment which I was expecting. The fact that she is a Muslim, a Somali, a refugee makes her victory historic."

Early years in Africa

Omar, 33, was born in Somalia and lived in a Kenyan refugee camp for four years after her family fled the civil war that devastated the Horn of Africa nation.

She ultimately moved to Cedar-Riverside, a largely Somali-American neighborhood in Minneapolis, where she has lived for nearly two decades and became a political activist.

In November, Omar will face Republican Abdimalik Askar in the race to represent District 60B of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

The Minneapolis area is home to the country's largest Somali-American community. In 2013, another member of the community, Abdi Warsame, won a seat on the Minneapolis City Council, becoming the highest elected Somali-American nationwide.

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