Indian-American Kamala Harris:The inspiring story of many firsts

Washington: In a major breakthrough for Indian-Americans in US politics, Joe Biden has picked Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. Biden made history by selecting the first Black woman to compete on a major party’s presidential ticket.

55-year-old Harris is currently the Senator from California. Her father, Donald Harris, was from Jamaica, and her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a cancer researcher and civil rights activist from Chennai. She, however, defines herself simply as American’.

Indian Americans hail the decision

Leading Indian-American groups across the US have lauded the selection of Harris, saying it was a moment of pride and celebration for the entire community in America. An estimated 1.3 million Indian-Americans are expected to vote in the election, including nearly 200,000 in Pennsylvania and 125,000 in Michigan, both must-win battleground states.

Known for many firsts

Kamala Harris is known for many firsts. She has been a county district attorney; the district attorney for San Francisco the first woman and first African-American and Indian-origin to be elected to the position.

She was also the first female African-American and Indian-origin to become California’s attorney general. Harris became the first Indian-origin and second African-American woman to join the Senate.

Kamala Harris held the first event of her 2020 presidential campaign in Washington from the campus of Howard University, from which Harris earned an undergraduate degree in 1986.

If elected, Harris would be the first ever women to be the vice president of the US and the first ever Indian-American and African-American vice president. Only two other women have been nominated as vice-presidential candidates – Sarah Palin by the Republicans in 2008 and Geraldine Ferraro by the Democrats in 1984. Neither made it to the White House.

Support for immigrants

While Harris supports broader immigration overhaul legislation, she also contends that the deferred action for immigration enforcement against some immigrants could be substantially expanded even without congressional action. Harris batted for H-4 work visas which mainly impacted Indian spouses.

During her presidential bid, she advocated for a proposal to direct the Department of Homeland Security to provide retroactive work authorisation for immigrants who came to the US as children often referred to as Dreamers.

Raised by Hindu single mother

Harris was born in Oakland and grew up in Berkeley. After her parents divorced, Harris was raised primarily by her Hindu single mother. She says that her mother adopted black culture and immersed her two daughters – Kamala and her younger sister Maya – in it. Harris grew up embracing her Indian culture, but living a proudly African American life. She often joined her mother on visits to India.

“My mother understood very well that she was raising two black daughters,” she wrote in her autobiography The Truths We Hold. “She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as black girls and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud black women.”


After her parents divorced, Harris spent her high school years living in French-speaking Canada her mother was teaching at McGill University in Montreal. She then attended college in the US, spending four years at Howard University, which she has described as among the most formative experiences of her life.

After Howard, she went on to earn her law degree at the University of California, Hastings, and began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.


Kamala Harris became the top prosecutor for San Francisco in 2003, before being elected the first woman and the first black person to serve as California’s attorney general in 2010, the top lawyer in America’s most populous state.

In her nearly two terms in office as attorney general, Harris gained a reputation as one of the rising stars of the Democratic Party. She was elected as California’s junior US senator in 2017.

It is believed that Harris’ nomination will prevent Indian-American voters in key battleground states from moving away from the opposition Democratic Party towards Trump.

Pride for Indians

The nomination of US senator Kamala Harris, who has her connections with Chennai, as the vice- presidential running mate for the American Presidential elections 2020, is a moment of pride for Indians and Tamil Nadu, said Deputy Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu  O Panneerselvam.

Reacting to Tuesday’s announcement, Panneerselvam recalled her roots and conveyed his hearty wishes.

“It is a moment of pride for Indians and Tamil Nadu especially, as Kamala Harris, the first Indian senator, whose mother hails from Tamil Nadu has been nominated as the Vice Presidential candidate by the US Democratic party.

My hearty wishes to her,” he said in a tweet.

Harris’ mother, Shyamala, was the daughter of PV Gopalan, who was active in the Indian independence movement and then became a high-ranking civil servant who fought against corruption.