The Sari-Wearing Vice Presidential Candidate, Kamala Harris

On August 11, former Vice President Joe Biden made history when he selected Senator Kamala Devi Harris as his running mate. This nomination was a historic move with the first woman of color to run for Vice President on a major party presidential ticket in the United States. Kamala is biracial, with an Indian-born mother and Jamaican-born father. Immediately, Twitterverse exploded with images of Kamala in a family photo wearing a sari.

Kamala, meaning ‘lotus flower’ in Sanskrit, has been serving as a junior U.S. Senator (D) in California since 2017. Born in Oakland, she graduated from Howard University and the University of California, Hastings College of Law. Some Indian-Americans in the US have hailed the nomination of Indian and Jamaican-origin Senator Kamala Harris as a joyful (and of course, auspicious) moment. She was the first Indian American to serve as a U.S. senator and the second African American woman. Additionally, this news has triggered a wave of excitement in not only the United States, but also India and Jamaica.

Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was a cancer researcher and civil rights activist. Born in Chennai, Shyamala immigrated to the USA in 1959 to attend a doctoral program in nutrition and endocrinology at UC Berkeley. This was when she met Harris’ father, Jamaican-born Donald Harris, who was studying economics at UC Berkeley. According to Mercury News, “..they gathered with a group of like-minded students to discuss the black writers overlooked by the university curriculum and debate about politics, decolonization, and activism.” However, her parents ended up divorcing when she was seven years old.

Most of her interviews credit her mother as her inspiration. Kamala used to visit India every year at her grandparents in Chennai and Tamil Nadu. She has shared her memories of childhood with her grandparents in India on many occasions. She has nostalgically shared stories of walks every morning at the beach with her grandfather discussing politics and corruption.

Shyamala died in 2009 of complications from colon cancer at the age of 70. Kamala’s sister, Maya Harris, is also a political activist and worked on the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, in addition to Kamala’s most recent presidential campaign. Shyamala raised both her daughters in Berkeley during the Civil Rights movement.

To date, her politics have been polarizing and she has been criticized for her oscillating healthcare views, lack of execution around prison reform, and is considered to be more centrist when it comes to Israel. However, supporters have applauded her immigration initiatives around DACA and her commitment to ending private prisons.

While it is hard to put politics aside (no matter which side you’re on), hopefully, we can take a moment to celebrate the black, Indian, female representation potentially heading to the White House—maybe even in a sari.

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