How Kamala Harris is sparking an 'impossible dream' for women of colour across the globe

First, she was the first Black female attorney general of California, then the first woman of South Asian heritage elected to the US Senate.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden's running mate Sen. Kamala Harris.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden's running mate Sen. Kamala Harris. Source: AP

Her first name means "lotus flower" in Tamil, Sanskrit and Hindu, symbolising enlightenment, self-regeneration and rebirth. 

For many people, these things are typified by Kamala Harris - an American-born daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants.

She was the first black female Attorney-General of California, then the first woman of South Asian heritage elected to the US Senate. 

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Now, after Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden selected her to be his running mate on Tuesday, she is the first woman of colour tapped for a major party's presidential ticket in a country crying out for greater African-American representation.



Ms Harris' selection has drawn huge amounts of support, particularly among Indian Americans.  

"Today, just now, the American-born daughter of an Indian immigrant was named the vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket," one reporter wrote on Twitter. 

"And I, as the American-born daughter of Indian immigrants, can’t stop thinking of my father telling me: hard work makes anything possible.”

"Living in the US for 20 years, I never thought I would see an Indian American on a Presidential ticket," tweeted another. 

The news also reached Bollywood, with celebrities such as actress Priyanka Chopra congratulating Ms Harris on a "historical, transformational and proud moment for all women, all women of colour, all Black women, and all South Asian women". 

"PS to my younger self, look how far we have come," she wrote. 

Ms Harris was born in California in 1964 to a Jamaican father, economics professor John Harris, and an Indian mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a leading breast cancer specialist and civil rights activist. 

She has spoken publicly about the bond she shared with her late mother, who she calls her "biggest influence", along with that of her maternal grandfather, a senior Indian civil servant. 

Ms Harris' mother was born in Chennai, the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu formerly known as Madras. The eldest of four children, she moved to the US to start a doctoral program at UC Berkeley when she was 19.

Ms Harris, left, with her sister, Maya, and mother, Shyamala, outside their apartment in Berkeley in 1970.
Ms Harris, left, with her sister, Maya, and mother, Shyamala, outside their apartment in Berkeley in 1970. Source: Kamala Harris campaign


Years later, she would return often return to India with daughters, Kamala and Maya, to visit their grandparents. 

She died in 2009. 

"My mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was the greatest source of inspiration in my life," Ms Harris said in a video posted on Twitter earlier this year. 

"She taught my sister Maya and me the importance of hard work and to be believe in our power to right what is wrong." 

In a separate video, the vice presidential hopeful described her mother as a brown woman who was proud of her Indian heritage and yet whose intelligence was overlooked or not taken seriously. 

"Now every time, my mother proved them wrong," she said. 

Inheriting these principles from her own father, Ms Harris often invokes her maternal grandfather as one of the most influential people in her life.

"When I was a young girl, being the eldest grandchild, my grandfather would take me on his morning walk. All of his buddies, who also were great leaders, would talk about the importance of fighting for democracy, and for civil rights, and that people would be treated equally regardless of where there were born or the circumstances of their birth," Ms Harris said in another video on Twitter. 

"Those walks on the beach in India really planted something in my mind and created the commitment in me - before I even realised it - that has led me to where I am today."

A proud uncle and aunt 'thrilled' from India

Half a world away from Washington, Ms Harris' uncle and aunt follow her every move - and say they're "thrilled and happy". 

"There is no question about how happy we are," Ms Harris' maternal uncle Balachandran Gopalan, an academic in the Indian capital of New Delhi, told AFP. 

"She is a very committed personality - committed to public service and most importantly committed to common human decent." 

Mr Gopalan said her nomination is a "big deal" for Indian Americans. 

Ms Harris a child at her mother's lab in Berkeley.
Ms Harris a child at her mother's lab in Berkeley. Source: Kamala Harris campaign


"So far they have only achieved high professional jobs, but this is one of the highest political jobs," he said. 

Ms Harris' aunt Sarala Gopalan, who still lives Chennai, said she heard the news at 4am and had been up since.  

"She [Ms Harris] is a person who never forgets her roots and believes in family values," Ms Gopalan told the Deccan Herald. 

An 'impossible dream' from Jamaica

Ms Harris' run at the US vice presidency has also inspired locals in the Jamaican city of Kingston.

"My heart is soaring for all the kids out there who see themselves in her and will dream bigger because of this," Felicia Mills, an executive secretary told AFP, calling Ms Harris an "honorary Jamaican". 

"This means a lot for every little girl who has ever dreamed an impossible dream." 

Ms Harris' parents separated when she was five years old, and she and her sister were raised by their mother.

Mr Harris served as an economics professor at Stanford University in California. According to his biography on the university website, he is a naturalised US citizen but "had a continuing engagement with work on the economy of Jamaica, his native country". 



Jamaican political commentator Kevin O'Brien said Ms Harris has "spoken positive about Jamaica" in the past. 

"She is aware of her heritage and proud of it," he said. 

"It shows greatness, and it translates well, that the daughter of two immigrants born in the United States could aspire to the second most powerful job in America." 

With additional reporting by AFP. 


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6 min read
Published 14 August 2020 at 12:05pm
By Emma Brancatisano