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Ilhan Omar Says Her Victory ‘Offers a Counter-Narrative’ to Bigotry

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Ilhan Omar, the first female Somali-American legislator in the U.S., says her recent victory offers a sliver of hope after an election that left many women and immigrants feeling vulnerable.

“My election win offers a counter-narrative to the bigotry in the world,” Omar, who won a seat in Minnesota‘s House of Representatives in November, told People in an interview. “This is a land of immigrants, and most come here for opportunity, a second chance. It’s our time to fight for the America we know we can have.”

Omar fled Somalia during the country’s civil war and lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for four years before her family was sponsored and moved to the United States. Omar told People that it was initially difficult transitioning to life in America. “Not a lot of the kids knew how to coexist with people of a different background, so we created a unity and diversity program,” she said. “We’d have meals together and connect through experiences and stories. I was finally just ‘Ilhan,’ not ‘that Somali girl.’”

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But now, Omar wants to inspire other women and minorities to reach for their dreams — despite the difficult road that likely lies ahead. “I believe women and minorities often wait for permission to be invited to something; we need to stop doing that,” she said. “My kids are the reason I continue to strive for something better. They know, as kids who are Muslim, Somali, black Americans, that they’ve always been part of a struggle and that change isn’t easy.”

Read the full interview in People.

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Write to Samantha Cooney at samantha.cooney@time.com