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This Is What America Looks Like summary

Ilhan Omar

My Journey from Refugee to Congresswoman

4.4 (45 ratings)
23 mins
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    This Is What America Looks Like
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    Ilhan Omar’s carefree childhood was interrupted by civil war.

    When Ilhan Omar was a child, she was physically tiny. However, she punched above her weight – literally. In her hometown of Mogadishu, Somalia, she often got into fights at school. Despite her size, she wouldn’t put up with bullies picking on her or other kids.

    Ilhan wasn’t a typical Somali girl. But her family wasn’t a typical Somali family, either. For one thing, Ilhan and her siblings grew up without their mother, who died when Ilhan was two years old. For another, her family was Benadiri, an ethnic minority in Mogadishu. Her family had learned long ago that they didn’t fit in, so they might as well do and act as they liked. That meant, among other things, raising the girls in the family with as many privileges and responsibilities as the boys.

    Ilhan’s first few years were happy. But that happiness wasn’t to last.

    The key message here is: Ilhan Omar’s carefree childhood was interrupted by civil war.

    When Ilhan was eight, war broke out in Somalia, seemingly overnight. Her house was hit by bullets and mortar shells multiple times, and the war caused serious food shortages, leaving her family with only rice and beans to eat. Still, they were the lucky ones: in 1992, the year the war broke out, around 350,000 Somalis died, many from starvation or disease.

    When armed men tried to break into the house as the family cowered inside, Ilhan’s grandfather realized that they had to leave Mogadishu. The next morning, the family split up and loaded themselves onto several different cattle trucks, which were crammed with people fleeing the violence. Ilhan left with her pregnant aunt Fos, heading for southern Somalia. But the violence was spreading throughout the country, and soon the family was forced to cross the border into northern Kenya.

    Eventually, they ended up at a refugee camp outside the Kenyan city of Mombasa, joining the rest of her family from Mogadishu. It was bleak, but at least people gave Ilhan food and water. At the camp, she felt looked after.

    However, while Ilhan and her aunt Fos had escaped the violence of Somalia, they weren’t totally out of danger. Disease was rife in the camp, and soon, her beloved aunt contracted malaria. After a few weeks, she died of the disease. For the first time, Ilhan felt angry and scared for the future.

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    What is This Is What America Looks Like about?

    This Is What America Looks Like (2020) is a memoir tracing Ilhan Omar’s incredible, trailblazing journey from war-torn Mogadishu to the floor of the US House of Representatives. In the process, she learned what truly matters to her as a Muslim, mother, American, and human being.

    Who should read This Is What America Looks Like?

    • Superfans of The Squad
    • American politics junkies
    • Anyone looking for a modern-day fairytale

    About the Author

    Ilhan Omar went from a Somali refugee who spoke two words of English to one of the first Muslim women elected to the US House of Representatives. She’s sparred repeatedly with President Trump, over issues including immigration, Israel, and Islamophobia.

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