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tv   Rep. Ilhan Omar D-MN This Is What America Looks Like  CSPAN  July 26, 2020 8:15am-8:51am EDT

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people run for congress as a good to get a bigger social media following and to get a a better timeslot on cable news rather than to think about how to work from within institution to change our country for the better to watch the rest of this program and to find other episodes of "in depth" visit our website and click on the "in depth" tap tab at tp of the page. >> host: representative ilhan omar has a new book out. here's what it looks like and it's called "this is what america looks like." thank you for joining us on booktv. there are two characters in your book, who are they? >> guest: my grandfather and father. abba is a word we use for dad in somali and babba is a
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traditional word used in middle east for father and so since i born in his house that's what his children called in and we continued to call that as well. so they were both father figures to me and so i continued to call them abba and babba. >> host: what with the first eight or so years of your life like? >> guest: peaceful. you know, i had a really enjoyable childhood. i grew up any household where we had not just my siblings and my father but my extended family lived with us, but locals in antes and grandfather, my great grandmother was always around so it was a very loving environment. i was raised by educators and so education was huge part of our
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life and we all loved learning, and we were very curious kids. my grandfather and father encouraged discussions and debates and curiosity. i was known as the why did when i was little, and so i had a lot of intimate time with my grandfather and father because i was always around them asking questions. and as as a mother now i know w annoying that could be at times, but they never let on. it was a very protective, enriching environment to grow in. >> host: and that was in the mogadishu somalia area, correct? >> guest: in the capital city, mogadishu was a very defense -- dense place at the time. it was very culturally enriched
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environment. my earliest memories really are of music and art and place, and part of the education system was that you learned poetry some called somalia and nation a poet and so poetry is the way you express yourself, and songs and plays with the way in which this originally nomadic culture passed down information, not much of somali his history is written answer everything was done through song and dance and as part of her education system we would have times in which threat the day we would sing and dance, and my aunts and uncles brought that home and so they would have my siblings and i pair up and do duets. we were often busy writing songs
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down so we could memorize them, because none of us wanted to be outperformed by the other. >> host: you did not mention your mother. what happened? >> guest: my mother passed away when i 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 filled that space for me. and when i became a mother myself for the first time, really is one actually understood the concept of what it would have meant for her to be in my life. i remember being very young, pregnant, going through that experience and wanting to lean on my father, and him falling
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short. it was the first time where he couldn't really give me proper advice and couldn't really have adequate empathy and sympathy 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. i he knew i was really nervous. i had friends who had had c-sections and so i was very paranoid about going through that process, and so we wanted to provide comfort for me, and eventually my first experience at giving birth was like a likea communal experience in a way which i came into the world i suppose. so all of my family was there, the nurses and the doctors really didn't know what to do with the room filled with 20
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plus people who had come to experience it with me. >> host: you talk about that in your book, this is what america looks like you talk about the quote-unquote eyes of somalia that i followed you around. what does that mean? >> guest: you know, when you're growing up in a family that is as big as mine was, it's as if you're growing up in a ina small town where everybody kind of knows one another. not only was my family huge, but almost everybody else also knew my family. and so that kind of followed us when we came to america and moved to minnesota where there were also somalis. i kind of always grew up living in a sort of fishbowl in the way which i am now, where everybody had an opinion about how i was
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being raised, what i was learning, how i i was spendingy days, what i was wearing. we are a very expressive community, and people are not really shy to share their opinions. it was hard to be a teenager in that environment because you're not only accountable to your parents, your accountable to a whole set of our community that often doesn't fully have a comprehension of what values they are speaking of, and so there was always a push and pull. and many contributions and contradictions and hypocrisy that should appear likely my
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family had an open dialogue so i could question authority, i could ask questions, i could challenge their assumptions and so i grew up being balanced that way. and knowing that, that people can have their opinions come it doesn't make it fact, and that's okay and you take what fits into the set of facts that you have and what doesn't, and you allow it to shape you as much as your willing it to. >> host: so the fact that you grew up in a relatively boisterous fishbowl, did that help prepare you for your work today? >> guest: yeah, because the thing that you to learn growing up in an environment like that is, it's that your sense of self
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rapidly develops, right? you become acutely aware of who you are and what you are about because there is constant 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 peoples of narrative of me or ideas of me don't really matter as long as i know who i
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am and what narrative i want to shape of myself. >> host: congresswoman omar,, you also write in your book that you are known for defending yourself your fists as well. >> guest: yeah, i mean, you know, again up with a big family where it was really important not to only learn how to defend yourself verbally but also physically. when you are a very small person in schooling environment, a lot of people will pray on you.
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i had time with my father's father who didn't raise people was very influential in my earlier years who really made me be the that the physical can always be overwritten by the internal. so internally if i felt confident in brave and courageous, externally if i looked meek and small and tiny, you know, it didn't matter. to the shock and surprise of many of the bullies that i would encounter throughout my life, i am much stronger than they imagined. >> host: congresswoman, you write in your book as well that you are relatively a private person. this book is pretty revelatory. was that tough to put down and
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put out there in the world? >> guest: i would say besides giving birth to children and run for congress this is probably the hardest thing to do. it was a very painful experience to have intimately walk people through my life experiences and to have really engage in a process i was also analyzing my life and what these moments meant fully in the context of who i am today and what i wanted to convey for the readers. i think for someone that much is written about and less is known, it felt important really to give
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people the opportunity to get to know me in the ways in which i know myself. some of my friends have read the book and are surprised how revealing it is because i am not a very revealing person. because again when you grew up in in a place where you are always exposed, you want to keep speaking for yourself, and so i've always guarded some aspects of my personal life, and i do that a little bit here in the book but i wanted to really give people the opportunity to get to know me. >> host: how did you get from
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mogadishu to minneapolis, in short form? >> guest: relet mogadishu sort of the middle of the first wave of the civil war and would eventually make it to mombasa in the refugee camp we lived in for four years, and ultimately got the golden ticket to come to the united states in early 1995, and started out in arlington, virginia, where i went to middle school for a couple of years. and minnesota at the time was number one in the nation for
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educational outcomes, and my family was interested in having the best opportunities available to us, and so we were one of the first families to come to minnesota and eventually would find a community of other somalis who were also making their way here in search of a better life. >> host: you recount that when you land in new york city that your father told you this is not our america. what did he mean by that? >> guest: so an aspect of the refugee journey that people might not know is that that process is very long, and one of the last things that happens before you get your golden ticket to get on that plane is
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orientation that gives you an opportunity to understand what your new home will look like an how to adjust once you get there. because we don't really have a lot of resources for refugees to acclimate to life here in the united states, or too many parts around the world. and so that orientation process was one that, looking back at it was very revealing about the kind of american exceptionalism that exists in many of us, and i say in many of us because now when i travel people say your american exceptionalism is showing in the way i talk about america sometimes. but it's a vivid image of america the great, and there are videos, there are scenes in the
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videos you watch of white picket fences, families who have not only the opportunity but the resources to be able to fully feed themselves, you know. everything is shiny and beautiful. which really fits i think to our image of how we see ourselves, right? and we are so good at exporting that image to the outside world. what we have not been good at is working really hard to have that be actualized here for every person. that american exceptionalism is the one we fight every day to live out in ideals. so i i didn't imagine because t wasn't presented to me that i arrived in america and see
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americans homeless, sleeping on the site of the streets. i didn't imagine that there would be an america that didn't have the white picket fences and the beautiful homes but had a lineup of trash in the street, which i now know, right, like that's life in new york and in the system that they have set up. but at the time it was very jarring to go from that image ingrained, and you are ingrained in a couple of weeks as you go through orientation, two, at the next image of the actual country be that, and ipad hard time consuming it. as i was known as a white kid, i had to ask the question -- the white kid -- ask the father why this was happening and why
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nothing looked like it did in the videos. and him him obviously he understood that america was very much more complex place than what we've seen in that video. he said, you know, his hope was that we would eventually find our america, and to his credit arlington was much closer visually to the america we had seen, and i think my political work, my organizing work, my efficacy was born out of that moment of wanting the images to match, and they do everything i can every single day in showing gratitude for my new home to drive it, to look as beautiful,
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as clean as resourceful as it did in that video. >> host: congresswoman, what you got to minneapolis you got your undergraduate degree at north dakota state university. what were the circumstances that took you to north dakota from minneapolis? >> guest: yeah, i mean, we were as a nation really going through a breakdown in economic crisis, and at the time i also was experiencing my own personal breakdowns of really living a life that ultimately got tired of pushing against the grain, and found a way to just assimilate to the ideas of me that everybody had, and
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eventually felt strip of who i really was and felt drowned me in a life that i didn't really want for myself. and so i wanted to have the opportunity to really escape and start a new and find myself, you know, took on a journey to disconnect myself from everything that was familiar, and found myself with my two young children in interestingly diverse state college. i ended up, state university. i ended up going to in north dakota. i think that the landscape, which is very befitting of north dakota, was wide enough for me
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to breathe, reconnect with the image of me that i always had, someone who was passionate, someone who fully understood her purpose in life and felt dignified in that, and eventually found my purpose in leading a life of efficacy to try to work not only for the betterment of my life but for my children and future generation. >> host: and when you return to minneapolis, you wrote some letters or visited some people. what did you do on your return? >> guest: so towards my schooling, i watched a facebook
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click of an interview that oprah was doing, and in this interview she was talking about the process that she has gone through. and i can't remember it correctly right now but it might've been a conversation with the late maya angelou, and she said forgiveness is not for the person you are forgiving. it's for yourself it's the ability to let go. everybody that wrongs you often doesn't even remember or have an idea of them wronging you. it's not that wronging does not have chokehold on them. it has a chokehold on you. so when you let go, you are freeing yourself. it's not for the period we often i think about forgiving others, that it is a gift for them but
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it is a gift for ourselves. that was like my aha moment, as oprah says, and i knew that i had a lot to forgive in order to free myself of everything that brought me to that moment, and that was giving my siblings for not being what i wanted them to be for me, or giving 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 so that i was robbed of a
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continued childhood there. you know, forgiving my aunts are not having the strength to survive malaria and just continue to be part of my life in that refugee camp. so i had a lot to forgive so that i can let go, and that was really a very healing process that was expedited by my visit back to somalia in kenya in aiding other refugees who were in similar position i was 20 years prior, nearly 20 years prior to that. and 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're a kid you want everything to stay still. you want to be around your
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friends and your family, and you don't really understand what people are making a decision that is familiar. that i think put it into context for me and allowed me to continue in that process of healing, and ultimately i think made me a person that doesn't live in a black and white space but really lives in the extreme gray, and understanding, like you know, the context of things and how we may not get everything. we may not understand the
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decision points that bring people to different places, and when we shouldn't actually be entitled to that, that we should 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. >> host: you mentioned that you took some of your children up to north dakota state university with you. who is ahmed? >> guest: so i took my oldest daughter and my son. their father ahmed would continue to be part of the life and visit, and i think to me it was an important thing for me to
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separate myself and disconnect the kind of entitlement i felt people had to my life and my life decision. what i didn't want to rob my children of that connection and that ability to have the continuum of having the present of both of their parents. >> host: congresswoman, one of the themes i've added your book was the importance of clans in the somali culture, but also the paternalism. when you first got married you were not even present at your first wedding, is that correct? >> guest: yeah. that's not a somali concept. it's an islamic concept. some countries obviously have different cultures and traditions, and in the somali
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culture when we do our -- essentially the formal ceremony here where you're getting your marriage officiated by like a priest or a rabbi, but the imam would have the groom and a representative of the female, that's often tradition for somebody -- for a woman's first marriage and selectively, my father was alive, and so he, in those cases, plays the primary representative, and is almost exclusively male ceremony. there are no females present in
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that ceremony, and you essentially have a power of attorney that you turn over, that the representative carries out on your behalf. some people who don't have father of brothers would have a distant relative, and that becomes essential to have that sort of like power of attorney, but your father and your brothers often will have your best interests. at my age i had really not too many worries that my father wouldn't be a good representative for me. >> host: unfortunately, we are running short of on time so two final question, congresswoman. you have a chapter in your new book called walk in like a like
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man. what does that mean? >> guest: there is an essence of, you know, of the spaces in 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 that i would ultimately learn as people have had discomfort in the ways in which i show up in places without permission or invitatio
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invitation. >> host: and finally, congresswoman, your district is where all the tragedy in minneapolis has happened. what's next? >> guest: we are going through a really painful moment, not just her in minneapolis, minnesota, but across the country. it's important to remember that there's been many movements and many tragedies that have brought us to this moment. and so we have an opportunity really cannot listen to the traditional voices that a told us to go slow in search of progress or that a told us to accept incremental changes, but to really be bold in not only dealing with the issues of police brutality, of systematic racism, but also dealing with the social and economic neglect that have created the conditions
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that have led to the unrest that we have in our country right now. and i don't believe that we can use this moment to produce anything less than great. we're not only dealing with a pandemic that has brought a public health crisis that is produced an economic crisis, but we're also getting with a pandemic that we have had and that dealt with for a long time, which is racism in this country, and this is our opportunity to use all of that that has really combusted at this moment to really allow for transformative change to take place when we address the deep roots of the
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problems that we have an really hone in on what is proper and equal investment for all of our society should look like. >> host: "this is what america looks like" is name of the book. the author is representative ilhan omar and a democrat of minnesota. in the book chelsea talks about her time in congress, her views on president trump, a relationship with nancy pelosi, et cetera. we appreciate your sharing some of your back story with our viewers on booktv. >> guest: take you somewhat for the opportunity to chat with you. >> here are some of the current best-selling nonfiction books according to the "new york times."
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>> most of these authors have appeared on booktv and you can watch them online at >> hey, everyone. thanks so much for being here. my name is bradley trumpfheller and i'm a bookseller and defense host at brookline booksmith which is in brookline, massachusetts. we could be anywhere. i wanted to get started i


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