When Keith Ellison arrives at the Karmel Square, one of Minneapolis’s Somali malls, a rock star might as well be walking by the bustling stalls of bright fabrics, jewelry, phone cards, and videos.
People laugh and cheer as they hug Mr. Ellison and pat him on the back. Some speak quickly in Somali as an interpreter translates, and others offer congratulations in fluent English.
“Asalamu aleikum, brothers,” Ellison says with a smile. “Thanks for voting.” He is not Somali, or even an immigrant, but for these voters, Ellison is one of their own. After his victory in this month’s Democratic primary in the Fifth District, he’s likely to become the first Muslim elected to Congress. He would also be the first black congressman to come from Minnesota.
The distinctions are ones Ellison tries to downplay, always directing conversation back to the issues, but national media and many Minnesotans want to talk of little else.
“You think of the stereotype of Minnesota – Garrison Keillor and white Norwegian farmers. The first Muslim congressman coming from Minnesota? It says a lot about the changing face of the United States and Minnesota,” says Larry Jacobs, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance. “I think it’s one of the most interesting races in the country.” . . .
Muslims, both in Minneapolis and around the country, are quick to cheer his success as well.
“It sends two very positive messages,” says Corey Saylor, national legislative director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group in Washington. “It sends a message about the American people, that five years after 9/11 they’re comfortable sending an American to Congress, on issues not based on faith. And for the American Muslim community, it says our community has grown in political inclusion to the point where we can get someone elected to higher office.”