I’ll be the first one to tell you I have had a hard life. A brief summary: I lived in 30 different homes throughout my childhood, my parents divorced and fought an ugly custody battle that ultimately awarded 100% custody to my dad due to my mom being deemed “unfit” when I was in my early teens, I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen my mom since, and I secretly struggled with anxiety and depression.
While all of this was happening, I also knew English as my first language, was able-bodied, had white skin, attended a Christian church, dated someone of the opposite sex, had a dad who had been to college, owned a home, and remarried a woman, etc. These are just a few examples of identity traits that were true for me growing up that shaped who I am but didn’t make my life harder than it already was. I consider myself quite privileged. Despite all of my familial struggles, I found that most spaces (church, school, neighbors, society in general) welcomed me and rooted for me.
Before I was born, my dad and his dad actually served the state of South Dakota as state representatives for the Republican party. Politics have always been in my roots. I have written about how I supported John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. I have also written extensively about how becoming a public school teacher in a first ring suburb of Minneapolis has offered me a more collective worldview that was different than the one I grew up with.
In summer 2018, Ben, Zadie, & I along with some of our good friends and neighbors attended a campaign event for Ilhan Omar in St. Louis Park, where we reside, and got to meet her and hear her answer our questions about her commitments to our district.
As I listened, I heard passion, joy, advocacy, and service in her voice and I saw it in her presentation. She reminded me of how I felt as a new educator: filled with hope, determination, ideas, and strong convictions about restoring broken systems to serve all Americans.
I found myself staring at this Black and Muslim immigrant woman wearing a hijab. I remember looking at my white arm reaching for my water glass as she shared her dreams. I considered how different I am from her: Christian, my family has been in the U.S. for multiple generations, my blonde hair on display, I am monolingual with a pocketful of Spanish.
Today, I consider how we are similar: we are both working mothers, vision-casters, activists, dreamers of a society that is racially just, fighters for an earth that is well-taken care of, and defenders of families being able to stay together. We are both women who are in constant reflection and learning from the people we serve when they tell us about how our words impact them, we are both bold and brave and willing to keep educating ourselves constantly. We are both women who desire to lead our nation to healing.
I have been watching and noticing the many attacks on Ilhan’s character since before she was ever elected. I truly wonder: if our 5th district had been represented the last two years by a white woman like me or a white man (there are 319 white representatives out of 435 in the current 116th U.S. Congress), would there even be an opponent during this upcoming primary on August 11. I wonder what year we will see a U.S. Congress that shares the seats enough so that men do not make up 75% of the representation. Right now, women are celebrating the most seats they have ever had (106) and still only make up 25% of the voices in Congress when they also show up 50% in real life. (I want to acknowledge here that I also see gender as a spectrum now and really hope to see more womxn, especially of color, in elected positions). I wonder: would she be asked the same questions and asked to defend herself so much if she was not Muslim. I remember how she dedicated energy to altering the 181 year long ban on headwear so she could wear her hijab in the House of Representatives. If I had been elected, I never would have committed any energy to that issue because it wouldn’t have crossed my radar. She has faced incredible hatred from the top of the executive branch telling her she should resign and that she is terrible. How much energy does she need to channel to fight prejudice when if I were elected, I could actually just focus on my job? In two short years, she has continued to help bring innovation and inclusion to Washington D.C. My favorite quality about her is how she consistently challenges the status quo- because the status quo only serves a select few.
In my opinion, Ilhan has entered Congress in the way I enter my work: action-oriented, ready to work, and enthusiastic. It gets us in trouble sometimes but we are constantly learning from our methods and from the people who share the work with us. The more years that pass, the stronger I have become as an educator. I wish to see Ilhan experience the same opportunity with a second term: to keep learning and growing, to keep advocating for a nation that truly honors all lived experiences, and to keep representing our beautifully diverse 5th Congressional district.
Ilhan Omar has earned my vote for the primary on August 11th. I believe she deserves a second term. Will you join me and my family in casting your vote for her to continue representing us in Washington D.C.?
See her website and get help with making sure you are registered here.