Thursday, November 7, 2019

Immigrant of the Day: Safiya Khalid (Somalia), Lewiston, Maine City Council Member


Antonia Noori Farzan for the Washington Post reports on the election victory of Safiya Khalid, a Somalian refugee who won a seat on Tuesday to the Lewiston, Maine City Council.  She is the first Somali immigrant to win a seat on the city council.

During the campaign, online trolls from as far away as Alabama and Mississippi hurled abuse at her, telling her that Muslims had no place in American government and she should go back to where she came from.

Now age 23, Khalid fled war-torn Somalia with her mother and two younger brothers at the age of 7.  Her family resettled in New Jersey. Before long, Khalid’s mother decided to move the family to Maine. Somali refugees had started migrating to Lewiston, a former mill town, in the early 2000s, drawn by the abundance of cheap housing, good schools and low crime rate. Today, Khalid says, roughly a third of the city’s population is Somali.

Khalid worked for L.L. Bean as she attended Lewiston High and the University of Southern Maine. While still in college, she unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the school board. Her desire to hold public office came from watching city leadership remain stubbornly white as the city grew increasingly diverse.

At 23, Khalid may be the youngest person to ever serve on the Lewiston City Council, as well as the first Somali immigrant. Her win on Tuesday night was one of several firsts across the country in local elections. In Virginia, Muslim women were elected to the state senate and the Fairfax County School Board for the first time. Nadia Mohamad, 23, became the first Muslim woman and first Somali elected to the city council in St. Louis Park, Minn., while Chol Majok, a 34-year-old who fled violence in South Sudan, became the first refugee elected to public office in Syracuse, N.Y.


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