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This Is What America Looks Like
Cover of This Is What America Looks Like
This Is What America Looks Like
My Journey from Refugee to Congresswoman
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Named a Best Political Book of the Year by The Atlantic

"This Is What America Looks Like is the origin story of a leader who, finding no set path that would take a person like her to the places she wanted to go, was forced, and free, to chart her own." –The New York Times Book Review

"Ilhan has been an inspiring figure well before her time in Congress. This book will give you insight into the person and sister that I see—passionate, caring, witty, and above all committed to positive change. It's an honor to serve alongside her in the fight for a more just world." —Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

An intimate and rousing memoir by progressive trailblazer Ilhan Omar—the first African refugee, the first Somali-American, and one of the first Muslim women, elected to Congress.
Ilhan Omar was only eight years old when war broke out in Somalia. The youngest of seven children, her mother had died while Ilhan was still a little girl. She was being raised by her father and grandfather when armed gunmen attacked their compound and the family decided to flee Mogadishu. They ended up in a refugee camp in Kenya, where Ilhan says she came to understand the deep meaning of hunger and death. Four years later, after a painstaking vetting process, her family achieved refugee status and arrived in Arlington, Virginia.

Aged twelve, penniless, speaking only Somali and having missed out on years of schooling, Ilhan rolled up her sleeves, determined to find her American dream. Faced with the many challenges of being an immigrant and a refugee, she questioned stereotypes and built bridges with her classmates and in her community. In under two decades she became a grassroots organizer, graduated from college and was elected to congress with a record-breaking turnout by the people of Minnesota—ready to keep pushing boundaries and restore moral clarity in Washington D.C.

A beacon of positivity in dark times, Congresswoman Omar has weathered many political storms and yet maintained her signature grace, wit and love of country—all the while speaking up for her beliefs. Similarly, in chronicling her remarkable personal journey, Ilhan is both lyrical and unsentimental, and her irrepressible spirit, patriotism, friendship and faith are visible on every page. As a result, This is What America Looks Like is both the inspiring coming of age story of a refugee and a multidimensional tale of the hopes and aspirations, disappointments and failures, successes, sacrifices and surprises, of a devoted public servant with unshakable faith in the promise of America.

Named a Best Political Book of the Year by The Atlantic

"This Is What America Looks Like is the origin story of a leader who, finding no set path that would take a person like her to the places she wanted to go, was forced, and free, to chart her own." –The New York Times Book Review

"Ilhan has been an inspiring figure well before her time in Congress. This book will give you insight into the person and sister that I see—passionate, caring, witty, and above all committed to positive change. It's an honor to serve alongside her in the fight for a more just world." —Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

An intimate and rousing memoir by progressive trailblazer Ilhan Omar—the first African refugee, the first Somali-American, and one of the first Muslim women, elected to Congress.
Ilhan Omar was only eight years old when war broke out in Somalia. The youngest of seven children, her mother had died while Ilhan was still a little girl. She was being raised by her father and grandfather when armed gunmen attacked their compound and the family decided to flee Mogadishu. They ended up in a refugee camp in Kenya, where Ilhan says she came to understand the deep meaning of hunger and death. Four years later, after a painstaking vetting process, her family achieved refugee status and arrived in Arlington, Virginia.

Aged twelve, penniless, speaking only Somali and having missed out on years of schooling, Ilhan rolled up her sleeves, determined to find her American dream. Faced with the many challenges of being an immigrant and a refugee, she questioned stereotypes and built bridges with her classmates and in her community. In under two decades she became a grassroots organizer, graduated from college and was elected to congress with a record-breaking turnout by the people of Minnesota—ready to keep pushing boundaries and restore moral clarity in Washington D.C.

A beacon of positivity in dark times, Congresswoman Omar has weathered many political storms and yet maintained her signature grace, wit and love of country—all the while speaking up for her beliefs. Similarly, in chronicling her remarkable personal journey, Ilhan is both lyrical and unsentimental, and her irrepressible spirit, patriotism, friendship and faith are visible on every page. As a result, This is What America Looks Like is both the inspiring coming of age story of a refugee and a multidimensional tale of the hopes and aspirations, disappointments and failures, successes, sacrifices and surprises, of a devoted public servant with unshakable faith in the promise of America.

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About the Author-
  • Ilhan Omar is the first Somali-American legislator in the United States and currently serves as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota's 5th congressional district. In November 2018, she became one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, as well as the first woman of color to serve as U.S. Representative from Minnesota. Omar is a mother of three. She lives in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    May 1, 2020
    The first African refugee elected to Congress tells her unique story. By any measure, Omar's trajectory is dramatic and remarkable: Born in 1982 into a loving, stable family in Mogadishu, Somalia, she was displaced at age 8 by the civil war that killed hundreds of thousands in her home country. She escaped to neighboring Kenya and spent four years in a squalid, dangerous refugee camp. After being screened by immigration authorities, she and her family were allowed into the U.S. They spent two years in New York City and then moved to Arlington, Virginia, where Omar was bullied constantly. Nonetheless, and even though she knew very little English, she was determined to learn. Landing in Minneapolis a few years later, Omar blossomed into a leader at her high school. In 2009, she relocated to North Dakota to earn a college degree, and, upon her return to Minneapolis, she became involved in local politics. In 2018, she and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan "became the first Muslim women elected to Congress." As a junior member of the House of Representatives, she gained notoriety for her grace in the face of attacks by Donald Trump aimed at her ethnicity, dark skin tone, religion, citizenship, and political advocacy. Naturally, Omar feels confused and angered by Trump and many of his fellow Republicans. Refreshingly and wisely, however, she waits until Page 225 before turning her attention to Trump's petty tactics. Her trajectory to that point is impressive and compelling. It's clear that the author has always made her own way while struggling to find her role among her beloved family members, not all of whom approved of her path. Page after page, Omar is by turns fierce, self-deprecating, and confident, and, with the assistance of Paley, she has produced a smoothly readable narrative. No matter a reader's personal politics, Omar's life should serve as an inspiration.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 18, 2020
    Minnesota representative Omar debuts with a brisk and forthright recounting of her life story from her childhood in Mogadishu to her first year in office as the first Somali-American, and one of the first two Muslim women, elected to Congress. She movingly details how her family’s comfortable, middle-class existence in Somalia was disrupted by the outbreak of civil war in 1992, and the four years she and her siblings spent in refugee camps before their single father (Omar’s mother died when she was two) won the “golden ticket” of a U.S. visa. Omar recalls her shock at seeing homeless people on the streets of New York City, and spending much of her first year of middle school in detention for fighting. She describes struggling as a teenager to follow her father’s rules, and an emotional “breakdown” involving the dissolution of her first marriage and a yearlong separation from her family. She credits her political philosophy to her experiences as a nutrition educator for underserved communities in Minneapolis, offers incisive rundowns of her early campaigns, and apologizes for the use of an anti-Semitic trope to criticize U.S.-Israeli policy without backing down from her larger point. Polished and frequently poignant, this memoir confirms Omar’s status as rising Democratic star.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from June 1, 2020
    On January 3, 2019, Omar was sworn into the one-hundred-sixteenth Congress with a record-breaking 100 other women, 43 of whom were women of color. She stood there as one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and the first Somali American legislator. Less than two decades before, she entered the U.S. as a refugee. Omar's story is the embodiment of the American dream. She was just eight when her family was driven out of their home in Mogadishu because of civil war, then spent the next four years in a refugee camp. When she arrived in America, she knew no English and had lost years of schooling, yet her determined and unapologetic spirit did not falter. In a memoir that is both vulnerable and extremely powerful, Omar asserts pride for the country that took her in when she had nothing and the commitment to make sure America lives up to the dreams it has promised everyone, regardless of gender, race, or religion. In telling her remarkable story, Omar reminds us all of what it means to fearlessly strive for a better life, a better nation, and a better world.Women in Focus: The 19th in 2020(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal

    June 1, 2020

    Omar, U.S. Representative for Minnesota's fifth congressional district, reflects on her journey from refugee to member of Congress. Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, Omar was raised by a supportive family that eschewed traditional Somali gender roles. After the Somali civil war broke out, Omar and her family were forced to flee to a refugee camp in Kenya and eventually settled in the United States. She relates her experience and transition from refugee to citizen, as well as the challenges of adapting to a new culture and language. After graduating college, Omar became a community organizer and worked in local politics. She was encouraged to run for the Minnesota House of Representatives and later the U.S. House of Representatives, which upset many in the Somali community, resulting in her enduring threats, discrimination, and social media disinformation campaigns. Despite the obstacles, she became the first Somali woman and one of the first Muslim women to be elected to the House. Concluding this memoir, she presents her vision for America. VERDICT An introspective and self-assured memoir that unfortunately suffers from a jumpy narrative in later chapters. Recommended for readers interested in refugee and immigration stories, but the book may disappoint those hoping for details on politics and policy proposals. [See Prepub Alert, 10/21/19.]--ebekah Kati, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    January 1, 2020

    The first African refugee, the first Somali American, and among the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, Omar recalls fleeing with her family at age eight when their compound was attacked, spending four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before being granted asylum in this country, educating classmates to resist stereotypes, and becoming a grassroots organizer post-college. Then she was elected to Congress by a record-breaking turnout by Minnesotans. With a 150,000-copy first printing.

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • New York Times Book Review

    "This Is What America Looks Like is the origin story of a leader who, finding no set path that would take a person like her to the places she wanted to go, was forced, and free, to chart her own." — New York Times Book Review

    "Ilhan Omar has a quintessentially American story, told beautifully in the pages of this book. In the House, Ilhan is an eloquent spokesperson for her point of view. I am grateful that her journey brought her to us." — Speaker Nancy Pelosi

    "This beautiful book is a glimpse into the life of a woman I admire, respect and love so fiercely. Ilhan, you reaffirm that we belong everywhere and so do our stories. Thank you for sharing yourself with the world and for the steadfast resolve you bring to the work of justice and the upliftment of community." — Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley

    "This is What America Looks Like is centered on the lived experiences of my sister in service, Ilhan Omar. It is a powerful and inspirational story that demonstrates the need for representation in government that reflects the diversity of our nation." — Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib

    "Omar is by turns fierce, self-deprecating, and confident, and . . . has produced a smoothly readable narrative. No matter a reader's personal politics, Omar's life should serve as an inspiration." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

    "Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is a fearless, pioneering badass with a titanium backbone, and her memoir is everything she is, in addition to being a rich, witty, crackling good read." — Dave Eggers, author of The Monk of Mokha and The Captain and the Glory

    "Omar renews my faith in America. Her journey from refugee to politician is a story of courage, faith, and tenacity. Ultimately, she inspires us to be more human. The America I love looks like this."
    Sandra Cisneros, award-winning author of The House on Mango Street

    "Ilhan has been an inspiring figure well before her time in Congress. This book will give you insight into the person and sister that I see—passionate, caring, witty, and above all committed to positive change. It's an honor to serve alongside her in the fight for a more just world." — Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

    "Ilhan Omar has a gift for crossing all boundaries, from religious and cultural to political and personal. My world is bigger after reading This Is What America Looks Like. I recommend it." — Gloria Steinem

    "Rep. Ilhan Omar is not just pushing America to live up to its best ideals—she's showing us how the struggle for inclusion and solidarity can transform our communities in the here and now. This book is a gripping, wonderfully frank account of a remarkable political journey that is just getting started. As dazzling as its author." — Naomi Klein, author of On Fire: The Burning Case for the Green New Deal

    "With every beautifully written page, we are given precious insights into the extraordinary experiences, struggles, and mercies that shaped the freedom fighter we know today. Omar has gifted us with a perfect memoir: reflective without being self-indulgent, intellectual but still passionate, pragmatic yet brimming with hope. After reading her story, even Omar's biggest critics will be unable to deny her principled political commitments, visionary leadership, and profound love for the entire human family. During these trying political times, this book is a desperately needed reminder that the type of world, and...

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My Journey from Refugee to Congresswoman
Ilhan Omar
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