Coloradans elect first Muslim, first African immigrant to state legislature

First-time voter and Aurora resident Nawal Elsayad was sitting with her dad in front of the TV around 10 p.m. on election night, watching the results as they came in.

Elsayad was fixated on the screen for updates on the presidential election, but there was one local race that was particularly important to her: Colorado House District 41. The legislative seat represents parts of southwestern Aurora and unincorporated Arapahoe County.

Her dad refreshed Democratic candidate Iman Jodeh’s Facebook page and read a post aloud to his daughter: “We did it! I ran to make the #AmericanDream a reality for Everyone. I am a proud #Muslim, #PalestinianAmerican, & #firstgeneration American. And I am proud to be able to represent my communities & the people of #hd41 in the #Colorado state legislature! Now, let’s get to work.”

The 18-year-old yelled in excitement, making sure her mom heard the news. The first Muslim and Arab woman had been elected to the Colorado General Assembly.

Colorado gained national recognition in the 2018 election for its record-breaking number of women elected to the General Assembly, with women holding more seats than men in the legislature. This year, Colorado House Democrats added three more women to their roster, but much of the focus has been on Democratic groups working to get more people of color elected to statewide offices to not only better reflect Colorado’s population but also give more of a voice to underrepresented communities.

Jodeh, who will replace term-limited Democratic Rep. Jovan Melton of Aurora, won more than 66% of the vote in her race against Republican opponent Robert Andrews. She’s part of a House Democratic caucus that is touted for its diversity. Also joining the caucus next year is Democratic candidate Naquetta Ricks, the first African immigrant elected to the statehouse, to represent District 40 in Aurora.

After President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, Elsayad didn’t expect that just four years later, a Muslim Arab-American woman would be representing her even at the state level.

“It was something so relevant to me,” she said of Jodeh’s win. “I was so excited to see somebody who looks like me in office. … I was also very excited to see we’re making big changes, and I knew she was a big change to any district.”

Standing in the kitchen of her childhood home in Aurora on Thursday, Jodeh was helping her mom prepare a traditional Palestinian lunch for her family. She values the multiple facets of her identity.

Jodeh is a community activist and started her own nonprofit called Meet the Middle East. She’s taught classes about Palestine and has worked as a spokesperson for the Colorado Muslim Society, which her late father co-founded after immigrating to the United States.

“When you have my identity markers — I am a practicing Muslim Palestinian-American woman of color — you don’t know anything other than activism,” Jodeh said.

Andy Cross, The Denver Post

Newly elected Colorado Rep. Iman Jodeh, D-Aurora, right, and her husband Maytham Alshadood, center, take food to the table for lunch at her mother’s home, Siham Jodeh, left, on Nov. 12, 2020.

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