Kamala Harris: An Indian civil servant’s granddaughter is Joe Biden’s running mate

She remembers him as her “most favourite person” in the world. …

In picking senator Kamala Devi Harris to be his vice-presidential candidate, democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden may have hit many of the sitting US president’s raw nerves.

Harris is a woman, a person of color, and Indian-origin—all parts of history that speak directly to Donald Trump’s stance on women, racial discrimination, and immigration. After Biden’s announcement, Trump told the press today (Aug.12) at the White House that Harris was the “meanest, most disrespectful” member of the US senate.

But besides being a thorn in the US president’s side, Harris’s story is emblematic of the hardworking American mixed-race family, which has the potential to connect with voters across lines of race and religion.

The Indian roots

Harris was born to former economics professor Donald Harris, a Jamaican by birth, and Shyamala Gopalan, a cancer researcher who migrated from India to the US for her PhD. Harris’s parents met at the University of California, Berkeley, and married in 1963. They had Harris a year later, in 1964, in Oakland.

The young couple divorced in 1971, and Harris and her sister Maya stayed with their mother.

Harris is among the few Indian-origin Americans who have consistently upheld their Indian roots. Others, like Bobby Jindal, eventually shed their links to the Indian community in the US, much to the disappointment of his supporters.

Through the years, Harris spoke openly and liberally about her Indian roots, the visits to her grandparents’ home in Chennai, and living with a mother who had great “spirit and tenacity.”


Harris has, in the past, spoken about the influence of her maternal grandfather, PV Gopalan a career civil services officer in India. Gopalan spent a significant amount of time in the 1960s in Zambia, deputed there to oversee the rising refugee crisis. Harris would visit her grandparents in Zambia, fostering a bond that lasted, through handwritten letters, till Gopalan’s death in 1998. The US vice-presidential candidate remembers him as her “most favourite person” in the world.

Harris’s Indian roots go beyond her often-mispronounced name Kamala, which is another name for goddess Lakshmi, and a derivative of the Sanskrit word for lotus. Shyamala kept both her daughters connected to their cultural roots. “My mother was very proud of her Indian heritage and taught us, me and my sister Maya, to share in the pride about our culture. We used to go back to India every couple of years,” Harris had told Aziz Haniffa, executive editor and a chief correspondent of India Abroad, an ethnic newspaper for Indian Americans, in August 2009.

Her cultural identity, though, is only one part of her sure and steady rise on the American political ladder.

“Fearless fighter” for VP

Biden had long said he’d consider only women as running mates but the competition was rife: Elizabeth Warren, Stacey Abrams, Susan Rice, Tammy Duckworth, and Karen Bass were all in the running. There was even some pushback on choosing Harris after debate showdown between her and Biden during the primary.

Yet, the long-time Biden aide came out on top for more than one reason.

For one, Harris hails from California—a large state with a large trove of voters and donors. Then, the 55-year-old is a young comrade for the presidential candidate who is often considered “too old.” And while her terms as attorney general were marred with controversies—mishandling of police misconduct, refusing a DNA test that could prove a murder accused’s innocence, and a “Crime Lab Scandal,” in which a technician was accused of skimming drugs—Harris has now emerged as an outspoken about police reform and dismantling of systemic racism.

Becoming the first woman of color on a major party ticket is a major milestone for the “fearless fighter” who has been nurturing a career in law and politics for over two decades.

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