Halima Aden first came to the United States when she was 7, after her family left the refugee camp in Kenya where Aden was born.
Since settling into Minnesota’s growing Somali community — according to census data, the largest such community in the U.S. — Aden has thrived and is currently attending Saint Cloud University.
But the 19-year-old’s current claim to fame is the fact that she’ll be competing in the Miss Minnesota beauty pageant this weekend (Nov. 26–27) in a hijab, burkini, and other fully covering garb — a first for the state.
Aden has broken barriers before. She was the first Somali-American in her college student government and was also crowned homecoming queen at her high school. “When I see that there hasn’t already been somebody, I take that as a challenge for me to give it a try,” she told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Her decision is perhaps a bit more complex since not everyone in her community supports it, most notably her own mother.
It’s also worth mentioning that she is making her contest bid at a delicate time. “Tension has been rising about the Somali community for years,” reports Minnesota Public Radio. “Hateful messages against Muslims and other ethnic groups have appeared there and in some other places in Minnesota since Donald Trump was elected president earlier this month.”
Regardless of the personal and political opposition she may face, Aden is looking forward to the opportunity and hopes that it can actually help calm things down. “We just needed one more thing to unify us,” she told MPR. “This is a small act, but I feel like having the title of Miss Minnesota USA when you are a Somali-American, when you are a Muslim woman, I think that would open up people’s eyes.”
If Aden wins the Miss Minnesota pageant this weekend, she will be eligible to compete in the Miss USA contest and potentially for the title of Miss Universe.