American V-P Candidate Kamala Harris Has Made History, and Indians Are Over the Moon


American V-P Candidate Kamala Harris Has Made History, and Indians Are Over the Moon

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Yesterday, Senator Kamala Harris made history. US Presidential candidate Joe Biden announced Harris as his running mate on the Democratic ticket. This makes Harris, 55, the first Black woman and first Indian American woman to ever be on the Presidential ticket of a major American political party. The distinguished lawyer has often been referred to as the “female Obama” because of her mixed-race parentage.

Biden’s announcement made it clear that he had buried the hatchet, considering Harris, during the first Democratic debate, had insinuated that he was a racist. She was then running for President but dropped out of the race in December 2019, citing a lack of funds.

Harris’ career is a series of firsts. In the November 2016 Senate election, she became the first South Asian–American to serve in the United States Senate. She is also California’s first American district attorney of colour. Harris served as Attorney General of California for two terms.

Harris has distinguished herself with supporting policies that include healthcare reforms, a ban on assault weapons, and the descheduling of cannabis. She won the reputation of being “tough on crime”, and shot to international consciousness for grilling Associate Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh for sexual assault allegations during the Senate hearings in 2018.

Harris’ parents are both immigrants: Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a breast-cancer scientist from Tamil Nadu pursued a doctorate in endocrinology at UC Berkeley in the 1960s. She met Kamala’s father Donald Harris, a Stanford University emeritus professor of economics, who is from British Jamaica, at the university. The two separated when Kamala was seven.

Kamala Harris often speaks in public about her Indian heritage, and the influence her maternal grandfather, freedom fighter PV Gopalan had on her. In a 2009 interview first published in India Abroad newspaper, she spoke about her visits back to Chennai. “…Some of my fondest memories from childhood were walking along the beach with [PV Gopalan] after he retired and lived in Besant Nagar, in what was then called Madras. He would take walks every morning along the beach with his buddies who were all retired government officials and they would talk about politics, about how corruption must be fought and about justice. They would laugh and voice opinions and argue, and those conversations, even more than their actions, had such a strong influence on me in terms in terms of learning to be responsible, to be honest, and to have integrity. When we think about it, India is the oldest democracy in the world – so that is part of my background, and without question has had a great deal of influence on what I do today and who I am.”

Of course, India and Indians across the globe are celebrating it like a personal victory. Actor and producer Mindy Kaling, who had earlier filmed a video with Harris where the two prepared dosa together, was ecstatic.

Actress Priyanka Chopra labelled it a “transformational” moment for all women, particularly, women of colour.

Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the star of the long-running political satire Veep, tweeted that she had no jokes to make.

Basketball star LeBron James called it “well-deserved”.

This is no doubt an achievement for Kamala Harris. But, considering the muck-raking American elections are capable of, she is going to need all the luck she can get.