Last December I got to interview Rep. Ilhan Omar for about two hours. It was incredible. If you want to read that interview, you can here.
But I was originally asked to create a narrative from the interview. I loved that more than just posting a Q & A, but MN Monthly wanted to do it the other way, so the article has just been sitting in my files.
Now that Ilhan Omar is running for Congress, I want to share it with you. It's a narrative of Omar's answers to my questions, but without the questions included.
In Ilhan Omar's words:
It's been a year of extreme pressure. It's hard when you are personally affected by policies to continue to fight and shift the narrative and get people involved when you want to hide under the pillow. It's like motherhood: no matter how sick or sad you are, you know you need to be strong. You need to show up.
Many people didn't think I was here to work. The biggest obstacle was overcoming the media storm and the scrutiny that came with being a first because a lot of people were surprised that I actually understand policy. I understand how this place works. I can string sentences together, I can hold my own. To a lot of people, it was a surprise that I want to do things, I don't just want to talk about what it means to be Somali.
The attention of the media is focused primarily on my identity, but that really doesn't have much to do with why I got elected and the work that I want to do. I had no real interest in being a first. I was driven by the policy work because that's always been what I cared about.
I am proud of the legislation I’ve been able to put forth and all of the bonding appropriations I got for the district. For the first time, we're able to get funding for infrastructure and that creates a lot of jobs for our district. I feel really lucky as a freshman [legislator] to be able to bring the lion's share of that bonding appropriation to our district.
I saw in real time what happens when you persist through small challenges. Somebody would tweet something horrendous at me, but I would open my mailbox and there would be a letter from someone I never met — who might not even live in my state, or my city, or my country — who's going through a hard time and I’ve uplifted them. Magical things like that constantly reaffirm the beauty there is in our shared humanity.
I'm not much of a sleeper, so I do have some free time. I watch TV — Scandal, SVU [Law and Order Special Victims Unit], Criminal Minds, House of Cards. I watch a lot of standup. I grew up watching Def Jam, so I still watch some reruns on YouTube. I am a very nostalgic person in that way. I consume a lot of the stuff that I watched in my childhood.
All of the music I listen to is pre-2000 because it brings comfort. My uncle kept piles of records — James Brown, the Bee Gees, [Mick] Jagger, The Commodores, MoTown, Bob Marley.
The Somali music I listen to is pre-war. I grew up listening to the radio so it is kind of like time stops for me. It takes me back there and I remember the smells and I remember my grandfather and my uncle making us memorize the songs and do duets. It takes me back to lunchtime, 2:00 p.m. in Mogadishu city with my whole family, listening to the radio play and having people stop by, drinking tea and coffee. Just things being joyful.