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When Nadia Mohamed arrived as a 10-year-old refugee in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, she remembers, there were no faces that resembled hers. On Nov. 7, as the 27-year-old mayor-elect, she became the new face of the city of 50,000.
Mohamed will become the country’s first elected Somali-American mayor on Jan. 2, after she completes her term as a City Council member — a seat she won at 23, becoming the youngest person, the first Muslim, and the first Somali-American to serve in that body. Her family migrated to Kenya after the civil war in Somalia, and she lived in the Kakuma refugee camp until she was about 10.
Election Day also brought mayoral milestones in Philadelphia, where Cherelle Parker became the first woman and the first Black woman to win the position, and in Wichita, Kan., where Lily Wu became the first Asian American elected to that office.
In St. Louis Park, whose population is 80 percent white, Ms. Mohamed centered her campaign on increasing homeownership and community policing. I recently spoke with her, and our conversation below has been condensed and lightly edited.
Was there a moment when you had a political awakening? Or did the need to become the change you wanted to see happen gradually?
2016. I was going to college, and I grew up with Michelle Obama and Barack Obama. I had only known a Black president, and one that ran on unity.
And then in 2016, here came this candidate who attacked the Somali community in Minnesota. Oh my gosh, is this politics in America?
It was my first time being able to vote in a presidential election. I remember feeling like I was not at ease. Is my face the kind that America wants?
So I started reaching out to my neighbors, organizations and our Police Department. I connected people and had those dialogues. Not only did it add to my sense of belonging, but other people felt like they belonged here, regardless of what was happening outside St. Louis Park. I was then asked to run for office. It opened up a possibility of political life and how I could make an impact.
The experience of that election was an awakening. I think a lot of people woke up.