This photo of Ilhan Omar's swearing-in ceremony shows exactly why representation matters


On Tuesday, Ilhan Omar made history in the United States in more ways than one when she was sworn into the Minnesota House of Representatives: She became the first female Muslim and Somali-American legislator.

Omar, who serves House District 60B in Minnesota, held the Quran during her swearing-in ceremony, becoming the second person to do so after Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim U.S. congressman and contender for DNC chairmanship.

One photo, in particular, shows just how powerful this moment was and exactly why representation matters in the political system today. In this photo, Omar is seen standing tall — donning colorful accessories and her bright orange hijab — among a sea of white faces. This is a historic sight that doesn't come too frequently for young women of color and Muslim Americans, especially in politics.

Jim Mone/AP

The U.S. Congress proves just how white, male and Christian dominated some of our political institutions are. The 115th Congress, which was sworn in on Tuesday, is the most diverse yet. Despite this, Congress is still about 80% male, around 80% white and about 8% are non-Christian. This is far from representative of the U.S. when, according to the Washington Post, more than half of Americans are female and white non-Hispanics only make up about 63% of the country's population.

The new Congress includes a record number of 21 women. In addition, women of color serving in the U.S. Senate quadrupled this year with Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) inducted to the U.S. Senate joining Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI).

Several Twitter users celebrated Omar's ceremony with pride:

But what makes Omar's political milestone monumental isn't just her identities as a Muslim woman and a Somali. She is also a refugee and immigrant, who fled the Somali Civil War with her family and lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for about four years. 

"The war started when I was 8," Omar told People. "One night militia tried to break into our home, and the exterior was riddled with bullets. My family left our neighborhood, passing through dead bodies and debris."

Jim Mone/AP

"I no longer had a bed of my own, the privacy of a shower in my own bathroom — we were essentially homeless," Omar added. "I would fetch water, and my family would reward me with a shilling at the end of the day, so I would go see a movie in the village next door in a makeshift theater: a hut."

Omar's place in American history sends a strong and inspiring message against xenophobic bigotry. The Minnesotan representative is fully aware of this too.

"My election win offers a counter-narrative to the bigotry in the world," Omar told People. "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 has not yet responded to Mic's request for comment.