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tv   Rep. Ilhan Omar D-MN This Is What America Looks Like  CSPAN  July 11, 2020 2:31pm-3:06pm EDT

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that's followed by uc berkeley center for right-wing studies chair lawrence rosenthal who chronicles the history of the altar right and its role in politics today. for more schedule information check your program guide or visit >> representative ilhan omar, democrat of minnesota, has a new book out, here's what it looks like, it's called "this is what america looks like". congresswoman, thank you for joining us on booktv. there are two characters in your book, baba and abe, who are they? >> my grandfather and father. abe is the word we use for dad in somali and baba is the traditional word used in the middle east for father. since i was born in his house, that's what his children called him and we continue to call him that as well. they were both father figures to me so i continue to call
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them abe and baba. >> were the first eight or so years of your life like? >> peaceful. i had a really enjoyable childhood. i grew up in a household where we had not just my siblings and my father but my extended family lived with us, my uncles and aunties and grandfather. my great-grandmother was always around it was a very loving environment. i was raised by educators so education was a huge part of our life and we all loved learning and we were very curious kids. my grandfather and father encouraged discussions and debate and curiosity. i was known as the "why" kid
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when i was little. i had a lot of intimate time with my grandfather and father because i was always around them asking questions. as a mother now i know how annoying that could be at times but they never let on. it was a very protective enriching environment to grow up in. >> and that was in the ãb somali area cannot. >> the capital city. a very different place at that time than it is now. it was very culturally enriched environment. my earliest memories really are of music and arts and plays and part of the education system was that you learn poetry some
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called somalia a nation of poets. poetry is the way you express yourself and songs and plays were the way in which this originally nomadic culture passed down information, not much of somalia's history is written. everything was done through song and dance and as part of our education we would have times in which throughout the day we would sing and dance and my aunts and uncles brought that home so they would have my siblings and i pair up and do duets so we were often busy writing songs down so we could memorize them because none of us wanted to be outperformed by the other. >> you did not mention your mother, what happened? >> my mother passed away when i
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was very little i have no memory and i really didn't have much of a missed experience with her not being around because there were so many adults who provided and fill that space for me. when i became a mother myself for the first time really is what i actually understood the concept of what it would've meant for her to be in my life. i remember being very young, pregnant, going to that experience and wanting to lean on my father and him falling short. it was the first time where he couldn't really give me proper advice and couldn't really have adequate empathy and sympathy
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for the things that i was experiencing. i remember he really wanted to be in the birthing room with me and i remember my friends thought that was really odd but he knew i was really nervous. i had friends who had had c-sections so as very paranoid about going through that process. he wanted to provide comfort for me and eventually and eventually my first experience at giving birth was like a communal experience in the way in which i came into the world i suppose all of my family was there, the nurses and the doctors really didn't know what to do with her room filled with 20+ people who came to experience it with me. >> you talk about that in your book come you talk about you
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talk about the "eyes" of somalia that followed you around. what is that mean? >> when you're growing up in a family that is as big as mine was it's as if you are growing up in a small town where everybody kind of knows one another. not only was my family huge but almost everybody else also knew my family. that kind of followed us when we came to america and moved to minnesota where they were also somalis i kind of always grew up living in a sort of fishbowl in the way i which i am now where everybody had an opinion about how i was being raised, what i was learning, how i was spending my days. but i was wearing. we are a very expressive
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community. people aren't really shy to share their opinions. it was hard being a teenager in that environment because you are not only accountable to your parents, your accountable to a whole set of community that often doesn't fully have a comprehension of what values they are speaking out. so there was always a push and pull and many contradictions and hypocrisies that showed up. luckily i grew up in a family that had an open dialogue. i could question authority.i could ask questions. i could challenge their assumptions. so i grew up being balance that
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way. knowing that people can have their opinions, it doesn't make it fact. that's okay. and you take what fits into the set of facts you have and what doesn't, and allow it to shape you as much as you are willing it to. >> so the fact that you grew up in a relatively boisterous fishbowl, did that help prepare you for your work today? >> yes because the thing you have to learn growing up in an environment like that is that your sense of self rapidly develops. you become acutely aware of who you are and what you are about because there is constant
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voices around you trying to shape you and so i grew up really feeling comfortable in my own skin and developing my own identity and feeling proud at times of my ability to defend myself from the opinions people had of me and i think to now exist in an environment where i am equally as unique as i was to my family that people's narratives of me or ideas of me don't really matter as long as i know who i am and what narrative i want to shape of myself. >> you also write in your book that you are known for defending yourself with your
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fist as well. >> i grew up with a big family where it was really important not only to learn how to defend yourself verbally but also physically. when you are a very small person in schooling environments, a lot of people will pray on you. i had a brief time with my father's father who didn't help raise me but was very influential in my earlier years who really made me believe that
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the physical can always be overwritten by the internal. internally if i felt confident and brave and courageous, externally if i looked meek and small and tiny, it didn't matter. so to the shock and surprise of many of the bullies that i would encounter throughout my life i am much stronger than they. >> you can write in your book that you are relatively a private person. this book is pretty relevant tory was that tough to put down and put out in the world? >> i would say besides giving birth to children and running for congress, this was probably
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the hardest thing to do. it was a very painful experience to have intimately walk people through my life experiences and to have really engaged in a process where was also analyzing my life and what these moments meant fully in the context of who i am today. what i wanted to convey for the readers. i think for someone that much is written about and less is known it felts important really to give people the opportunity to get to know me and the ways in which i know myself.
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some my friends have read the book and are surprised how revealing it is because i am not very revealing person. when you grow up in a place where you are always exposed you want to keep thinking for yourself so i always guarded some aspects of my personal life. i do that a little bit here in the book but i wanted to give people to give people the opportunity to get to know me. >> how did you get from mogen neapolis in short form.
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>> we left the middle of the first wave of the civil war and would eventually make it to the refugee camp we lived in four years and ultimately got the golden ticket to come to the united states in early 1995 starting out in arlington virginia where i went to middle school for couple years and minnesota at the time was number one in the nation for educational outcomes and my family was interested in having the best opportunities available to us so we were one of the first families to come
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to minnesota and would eventually find a community of other somalis who were also making their way here in search of a better life. >> you recount that when you landed in new york city that your father told you, this is not our america. what did he mean by that? >> an aspect of the refugee journey people might not know is that that process is very long. one of the last things that happened before you get your golden ticket to get on that plane is orientation that gives you an opportunity to understand what your new role will look like and how to adjust once you get there because we don't really have a lot of resources for refugees
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to acclimate to life here in the united states or to many parts around the world. that orientation process was one that looking back at it it's very revealing about the kind of american exceptionalism that exists in many of us and i'd say and many of us because now when i travel people say, you are american exceptionalism is showing in the ways in which i talk about america sometimes. it's a vivid image of america the great. there are videos, there are seeds in the videos you watch, white picket fences, families who have not only the opportunity but the resources to be able to fully feed
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themselves. everything is shiny and beautiful. it really fits i think to our image of how we see ourselves. we are so good at exploring that image to the outside world. what we have not been good at is working really hard to have that the actual life here for every person. the american exceptionalism isn't what we fight every day to live out in its ideals. i didn't imagine because it wasn't presented to me that i would arrive in america and see americans homeless sleeping on the side of the street. i didn't imagine there would be an america that didn't have the white picket fences and the beautiful homes but had a line
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up of trash in the street, which i now know, that's life in new york, and in the system they have set up but at the time it was very jarring to go from that image ingrained in your brain for a couple weeks when you go to orientation to, and the next image of the actual country be that. i've had hard times consuming it. as i was known as the "why" kid i had asked the question of my father of why this is happening and why nothing looked like it did in the videos. to him obviously, he understood that america was very much more complex place than what we've
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seen in the video. he said, his hope was we would eventually find our america. to his credit, arlington was much closer, visually, to the america we'd seen. i think my political work, my organizing work, advocacy was born out of that moment of wanting the images to match and i do everything i can every single day in showing gratitude for my new home to drive it to look as beautiful as clean as resourceful as it did in that video. >> congresswoman, when she got to minneapolis you got your undergraduate degree at north dakota state university, what
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were the circumstances that took you to north dakota from minneapolis? >> we were as a nation really going through a breakdown on economic crisis. at the time i was also experiencing my own personal breakdowns living a life that ultimately got tired pushing against the grain and found a way to assimilate to the ideas that everybody had and eventually felt stripped of who i really was and felt drowning in in a life i didn't really want for myself.
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i wanted to have the opportunity to really escape and start a new and find it myself. i took on a journey to disconnect myself from everything that was familiar and found myself with my two young children in an interestingly diverse state college i ended up going to in north dakota. i think the landscape, which is very befitting of north dakota, is wide enough for me to breathe, reconnect with the image of me that i always had, someone someone who is passionate, someone who fully
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understood her purpose in life and felt dignified in that and eventually found my purpose in in leading a life of advocacy to try to work not only for the betterment of my life but for my children and future generations. >> and when he returned to minneapolis you wrote some letters or visited some people, what you do on your return? >> toward my schooling and watched a facebook clip and an interview that oprah was doing in this interview she was talking about the process she's gone through and i can't
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remember it correctly right now but it might've been a conversation with maya angelou, the late maya angelou, she said forgiveness is not for the person you are forgiven, it's for yourself. the ability to let go. everybody, that wrong view often that we have an idea of them wronging you, it's not that, that wronging does not have a chokehold on them, it has a chokehold on you. when you let go you are freeing yourself it's not for them. often i think we think about forgiving others that it's a gift for them that it's a gift for ourselves. that was like my aha moment as oprah says. i knew that i had had a lot to
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forgive in order to free myself of everything that can brought me to that moment and that was forgiving my siblings for not being what i wanted them to be for me forgiving my father of not showing up in the ways in which i wanted him to show up. forgiving my mother for not living long enough for me to know her. forgiving the country i was born in for engulfing itself in war but i was robbed of a continued childhood there. forgiving my aunt for not having the strength to survive malaria and continue to be a part of my life in the refugee camp. i had a lot to forgive so that
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i can let go. that was really a very healing process that was expedited by my visit back to somalia and kenya in aiding other refugees who were in a similar position i was 20 years prior, nearly 20 years prior to that. reliving that experience also gave me an understanding of the choices that my family had to make which i didn't fully understand for a long time when you are a kid you want everything to stay still you want you want to be around your friends and family and you don't really understand what people are making the decision with everything that's familiar. that i think put it into the
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context for me and allowed me to continue in that process of a feeling. ultimately i think make me a person that doesn't live in a black-and-white but really lives in the extreme gray. and understanding like the context of things and how we might not get everything. we might not understand the decision points that bring people to different places and where we shouldn't actually be entitled to that that we should
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work really hard in trying to put ourselves there so that we can at least have some empathy for what they must have experienced in order to make a particular decision in life. >> you mentioned you took some of your children up to north north dakota state university, who is ahmed? >> i took my oldest daughter is ãbdear father would continue to be a part of their life and visit. i think to me it was ãbfor me to break myself and disconnect the kind of entitlement i felt people had to my life and my life decisions but i didn't
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want to rub my children of that connection and that ability to have continuum of having the presence of both of their parents. >> congresswoman, one of the themes i found in your book was the importance of clans in the somali culture. it also be ãbwhen you first got married you work even present at your first wedding, is that correct? >> that's not a somali concept. it's an islamic concept. some countries obviously have different cultures and positions in the somali culture when we redo our ãwhich is essentially the formal ceremony where you are getting your
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marriage officiated by like a priest or rabbi. the imam would have the groom and a representative of the female. that's often tradition for somebody 's first marriage no females present in that ceremony. >> and you essentially have like a power attorney that you turn
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over that carries out on your behalf and some people who don't have a father or brothers would have a distant relative, and that becomes essential to have that sort of, i like, power attorney but your father and your brothers often will have your best interests. so, at my age i had really not too man worries that my father wouldn't be a good representative for me. >> host: unfortunately we're running short on time so who final questions, congresswoman. you have a chapter in your new book called "walk in like a white man." what does that mean? >> guest: um, there is an essence of -- of the paces in
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which we exist where there is an expectation of how you show up in that environment and those expectations exist for every single person except for the dominant cultural presence of a white man, and this was a concept i would ultimately learn as people have had discomfort in the ways which i show up in places without permission or invitation. >> host: finally, congresswoman, your district is where all the tragedy in minneapolis happened. what is next? >> guest: we are going through a really painful moment, not just here in minneapolis, minnesota,
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put across the country, and it's important to remember that there have been many movements that have brought us to this moment and many tragedied that brought to us this moment, and so we have an opportunity really to not listen to the traditional voices that have told us to good slow in search of progress or hold to us expect incremental changes but to really be bold in not only dealing with the issue of police brow at that time, of systemic racism, but also dealing with the social and economic neglect that have created the conditions that have led to the unrest we have in our country right now. i don't believe that we can use
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this moment to produce anything less than great, and we're not only dealing with a pandemic that has brought a public health crisis that has produced on economic crisis but also dealing with a pandemic we have had and that dealt for a long time which is racism in the country and this our opportunity to use all of that is really combusted at this moment to really allow for transformative change to take place, where we address the deep roots of the problems that we have and really hone in on what proper and equal investment for all of our societies should hook like. >> host: this is what america looks like is the name of the
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book. the author is representative ilhan omar, democrat of minnesota, in the book she talked but her time in congress, her views of president trump, he relationship with nancy pelosi, et cetera. but we appreciature sharing your back story with our viewers on booktv. >> guest: thank you so much for the opportunity to chat with you today. >> during the summer months reach out to your elect official with c-span's congressional directory. stay in touch with members of congress, federal agencies and state governors. order your copy online today at c-span >> now on c-span2's booktv, more television for serious readers. >> ladies and gentlemen, i'm lou, one of the cofounders of


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