Many Somali Americans who fled the war are seeking elected public office

It’s a busy Friday afternoon at a Somali restaurant on the northeast side of Columbus, which has the second largest population of Somalis in the United States. The aroma of spices is as intense as loud conversations, and East African restaurants are crowded after afternoon prayers at nearby mosques.

The buzz grows when a familiar face boasts — Ismail Mohamed, a young Somali lawyer and candidate for the Ohio State Legislature. Old and young alike shout for greetings. The excitement that someone from their community will be able to represent them in Congress is palpable.

“It’s humbling to be in this position, but it puts a lot of pressure on where people have really high expectations,” he said.

The 30-year-old Democrat is one of a small but growing number of immigrants fleeing civil war and famine in Somalia who are now ready to add their voice to the political process in a place they call home. .

Ohio House Democratic candidate Ismail Mohammed poses at a Somali restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, Sept. 30, 2022.

Domestically, 11 Somali-Americans are running for Congress in Maine, Minnesota, Ohio and Washington. Somali Americans are also elected to city councils, school boards, and in Minnesota legislative seats and legislatures.

Increased political influence corresponds to population growth. In the late 1990s and early 2000s there was an influx of Somalis who arrived in the United States, now numbering over 300,000.

“We are just getting started.

They are part of an age-old trend of new immigrants testing the waters of the political process after settling in the United States. They say they want to bring the community to the table and provide solutions to the problems that plague their communities.

“Our driving force is the improvement of everyone who lives here. Running for public office is a way to show that we are here and willing to contribute,” said Race. Victory and the first Somali-American in the Maine legislature.

Abdi, like most people in Somalia, wears a headscarf for his Muslim faith while knocking on doors and visiting residents outside the assisted living community on a recent afternoon. .

The 26-year-old Democrat came to the United States as a child, graduated from the University of Maine in Farmington, and works at Bates College. office.

She may join another Somali-American running for another legislative district in Maine, South Portland Mayor Deqa Dhalac.

Darak, a 54-year-old social worker and Democrat, said part of what prompted her to run was that she made vulgar comments about immigrants from Haiti and Africa, and traveled from several Muslim countries. Said it was former President Donald Trump, a Republican who banned.Including Somalia.

“Even if you don’t run for office, you can’t blame others or complain about making policies or laws. If you want to make good decisions for your community, you are at the table.” I have to get there,” she said.

Newcomers share many of the same concerns as those born in the United States. Candidates focus on issues that directly impact communities, such as affordable housing, public safety, and increased funding for schools.

“People ask, ‘Are you American?’ Because your last name is Mohammed or Abdi,” says Mohamed, whose fellow immigrants have served in the military, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and more.

Like Abdi, 26-year-old Munira Abdullahi is almost guaranteed to be the first Somali woman and first Muslim woman to serve in the Ohio Legislature. Abdullahi, who is running for the Democratic Party, was born in a refugee camp after her parents fled Somalia. Decades later, she graduated from Ohio State University where she served as her director of youth for her American Society of Muslims.

In this undated photo provided by Munira Abdullahi (right), the Democratic candidate chats with potential voters in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In this undated photo provided by Munira Abdullahi (right), the Democratic candidate chats with potential voters in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

“I know a lot of young women look up to me and see themselves in me. I want you to say.”

Molly Harman, Citizenship and Civic Engagement Manager at the Immigrant Welcome Center in Portland, Maine, said immigrants contribute to the economy by bringing diverse perspectives and experiences, starting businesses and bringing new energy to communities. said it does.

“I think it’s very important to get new individuals, new perspectives, new or different backgrounds, people from all over the world, for a successful democracy,” she said.

Some candidates are inspired by Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who grew up in a refugee camp and became the first Somali-American congressman. She and several other young Democratic women of color were collectively known as “The Squad.”

She hopes to see more Somali Americans join her in Washington.

“Somali Americans are as American as anyone else and no invitation is needed to join or serve in our community. I am very proud of Americans of descent. We are in the halls of Congress,” she said. Many Somali Americans who fled the war are seeking elected public office

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