On Thursday, the incoming members of the 116th Congress were sworn in, and some chose to wear clothing that nods to the communities they come from, as well as make a pointed statement about whose interests they plan to represent.
Incoming Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan wore a traditional Palestinian thobe (and was sworn in on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Koran). Tlaib, a Palestinian American, explained why she decided to wear a thobe in Elle: “Throughout my career in public service, the residents I have had the privilege of fighting for have embraced who I am, especially my Palestinian roots. This is what I want to bring to the United States Congress, an unapologetic display of the fabric of the people in this country. This is why I decided to wear a thobe when I am sworn into the 116th Congress.”
It’s also an homage to her mother, who made her thobe. Tlaib continued:
As a young girl, I watched my mother hand stitch thobes while sitting on the floor with a lamp at her side. She would make the small designs of flowers and different shapes. Just thinking about it brings up so many memories of my mother and how proud she was of being Palestinian. My mom is a woman who grew up in a small farming village in the West Bank called Beit Ur El Foka. She only went up to 8th grade and then dropped out to go work in a tailor shop that made dresses and different embroidered designs to make money for her family. My mother knows struggle and has taught me how to lead with compassion, the compassion that should be required for every representative on every level of government.
Deb Haaland, the incoming congressperson from New Mexico who is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and one of two Native women in the new Congress, also decided to honor her roots by wearing Pueblo regalia for the swearing-in ceremony. “Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household, I never imagined a world in which I would be represented by someone who looked like me. That might be because just over 50 years ago, Native Americans in New Mexico couldn’t vote,” she wrote shortly after she won her race. Her support for a Green New Deal is intimately tied to her experience as a Native woman. “As a Native American woman, this fight is personal to me. My ancestral homelands are in danger of being destroyed by the fossil fuel industry,” she added.
And Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota wore a vibrant orange headscarf. While not a day-of sartorial choice, she has already made several pointed rejoinders to those who are alarmed that a hijab-wearing Muslim American woman is now a member of Congress: