“My people were refugees, too” – in honor of Rep Ilhan Omar

 Frank Hornstein and Ilhan Omar
Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Frank Hornstein

Minneapolis, Minnesota – Rep. Frank Hornstein honors Rep. Ilhan Omar for World Refugee Day 2018

There is a sign on my office door that reads, “My people were refugees, too.”

The message from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) is a reminder of the Jewish immigrants who arrived in the United States, fleeing wars and seeking freedom, opportunity, and a better life.

My late parents were among those new arrivals. They met on a train heading for a German refugee camp after surviving the Nazi Holocaust. They settled on the east coast in 1952 before moving to Ohio where I was born.

My own family’s immigrant and refugee history comes to mind when I think of my colleague in the Minnesota House of Representatives, Rep. Ilhan Omar. Her family also fled from their homeland during times of war, lived in a refugee camp, and settled in the eastern United States before arriving in the Midwest. Ilhan was eight years old when the civil war erupted in Somalia. After a militia group threatened her parents and fired shots at her home, the family fled to Kenya where they lived in a crowded and dangerous refugee camp for four years.

Ilhan arrived in the United States in her teen years and first experienced discrimination as the only Muslim student and person of color in her Virginia junior high school. A few years later, her family moved to Minnesota where Ilhan completed her high school studies before attending the University of North Dakota. Ilhan developed a keen interest in how politics can improve people’s lives. She got involved in local Minneapolis political campaigns and worked as a policy aide to a Minneapolis city council member before her historic election to the Minnesota House in 2016, where she became the highest-ranking Somali-American elected official in the country.

In a short period of time, Ilhan Omar has made a significant contribution to Minnesota politics and local and national movements for social justice.

I have seen how Members on both sides of the aisle listen to her speeches on the House floor, and how she has inspired a new generation of youth to engage in politics.

When I speak at schools in the Minneapolis legislative district I represent, the first question young Somali students ask me is, “Do you know Ilhan Omar?” When I reply, “Yes!” their faces brighten, and I know that Ilhan’s accomplishments are a source of pride and power for them.

Ilhan Omar’s roots inform her passion to make the world a better place for all people. As the son of refugees, I am inspired by her story and experiences. She exemplifies the power of the stories of those who came to the United States seeking refuge, freedom and opportunity. Her example is changing the political culture of our community and paving the way for others to follow her lead. On this World Refugee Day, we honor Illan Omar, and her transformative leadership.

Refugees shaking hands

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World Refugee Day 2018

This month, to celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, US-born Americans across the United States honor newcomer Americans with a story from their state – a story of a refugee, asylee, or immigrant they admire. From soldiers to politicians, employers to students, social workers to business people – everyday Americans tell their stories to celebrate the goodness and the courage of the newcomers who make the United States a better place.

Every day in the month of June, the Refugee Center Online will publish a new story from a different state. Check back for new stories each day: therefugeecenter.org/world-refugee-day.

Learn more about World Refugee Day. All across the country, there will be events celebrating World Refugee Day. Visit this map to find an event in your community.

About Frank Hornstein
Rep. Frank Hornstein has been a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives since 2003. He represents District 61A, which includes portions of the city of Minneapolis in Hennepin County in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.