It’s often easy for me to forget what it is to be a white male living in America. There is an innate privilege of being born in a country that has been molded in your favor. It is often easy to forget this privilege, especially when it is not visible to you, so it is important to be reminded every once and awhile how privileged you are.
In her new book, This is What America Looks Like: My Journey From Refugee to Congresswoman, Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar shares her opinion as a refugee who came to America from her war-torn country of Somalia and the struggle of becoming an American.
This is What America Looks Like begins with a young Omar standing up to a bully who’s picking on another boy in her elementary school in Somalia. Headstrong, young Omar is told that she would be fighting the bully after school. From this moment on, Omar shows that she’s one to stick up for the little guy, using a fighting spirit and breaking norms most young Muslim women are supposed to follow.
Omar then takes the reader to a refugee camp in Kenya, a sanctuary for Somali’s who’ve escaped the war in their own country. At this camp, Omar learns of the struggles that come with being a refugee. Losing her maternal-figure aunt to malaria, Omar realizes the horror that comes with the undignified living spaces refugees are given.
Omar describes the camp as a place where everyone got sick except her and her grandfather. The camp was explained with such vivid language and description that readers can almost see the small Somali girl run with buckets to get the daily water for her family.
That’s one thing that Omar does very well in her book, placing readers in her shoes. Her descriptions and accounts of her early life in the camp and her inevitable relocation to the United States are incredibly in-depth and gives readers an opportunity to imagine that we’re with Omar all the way to her office in Washington D.C.
Relocating to the U.S. in 1995, Omar comes to America with little to no English and an expectation that every American family lives in a house with a white picket fence. Upon landing in New York City and seeing the trash on the streets from the inside of a taxi, Omar realizes that she isn’t in the America she thought she would live in. Seeing his daughter stressed, Omar’s father tells her that “this is not our America”, a sentiment Omar returns to many times in the book.
Adapting to the United States, Omar encounters racism and bigotry as she enters school being different than everyone else. Quickly, Omar begins to learn English and by the end of her first summer in the United States, Omar was speaking it perfectly. Omar’s family would move to Minnesota soon after and her life as an American teenager began.
In her book, Omar touches on the number of struggles of being a Somali woman, especially in America. Not being raised like most Somali women, Omar is seen as a disgrace to her Muslim culture and in defiance of God. Omar discusses her own community being against her when she began to run for local, state, and federal offices, claiming that women aren’t supposed to lead men.
It’s the defiance in Omar’s heart, from standing up to a bully in school to standing up to a bully in the White House, that makes This is What America Looks Like an incredibly enjoyable page-turner.
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s life is one that plays out like an incredible movie. From the scenes of war to Omar’s coming of age, touching on political issues as well as cultural and familial issues, This is What America Looks Like is a must-read for anyone who needs a triumphant story in these trying times.
I would especially recommend the book if you, like me, sometimes need a reminder of what we should all be fighting for as a country; being the nation with open arms and open hearts for those who need a safe home to grow in. This is What America Looks Like is an eye-opening and humbling read that should make us remember how good some of us have it, especially these days.
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