MINNEAPOLIS – Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar's metamorphosis from refugee to the first Somali-American in Congress has been well-documented. Now, Omar is out with a new memoir that offers her own spin on her path to prominence, starting with her childhood in Mogadishu. “This is What America Looks Like: My Journey from Refugee to Congresswoman,” set for release Tuesday, offers no revelations on some of the controversies that have dogged Omar. Instead, it sketches rugged years that Omar says made her a fearless fighter, unafraid to skirmish with President Donald Trump and her frequent conservative critics.
A YOUNG FIGHTER
In her memoir, written with Rebecca Paley, Omar recounts taking on a much taller boy when she was just 7, rubbing his face in the sand after he picked on someone weaker.
“I wasn’t afraid of fighting. I felt like I was bigger and stronger than everyone else — even if I knew that wasn’t really the case,” she wrote. It's a theme woven throughout the book, including after she arrived in America and settled in Arlington, Virginia, knowing almost no English.
Omar got into fights in middle school to show she wasn't afraid, she writes, and she describes incidents in which she choked one boy until he foamed at the mouth and kept hitting another girl even after being told the girl was pregnant.
“Fighting didn’t feel like a choice. It was a part of me. Respect goes both ways,” she wrote.
LIFE IN SOMALIA
Omar said she grew up the youngest of seven in a loud, opinionated middle-class family, living in a guarded compound in Mogadishu. Her father’s clan was one of the country’s most powerful, and her mother, who died when she was in preschool, was Benadiri, a Somali ethnic minority. Omar, who described herself as a tomboy, said the only place she fit in was within the walls of her family home. Civil war broke out when she was 8, and after her family's compound came under attack by militia, the family escaped and eventually made it to a refugee camp in Kenya, where Omar spent four years before the family moved to the U.S.