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Kamala Harris becomes first Black and Tamil woman to run on major US ticket

Photograph: Courtesy  Lorie Shaull 

Kamala Harris has been announced as Joe Biden’s vice-presidential running mate in the upcoming US presidential elections, becoming the first Black woman and the first Tamil to be nominated for national office by a major party.

Harris, who is a  senator and former California attorney general, was hotly tipped to be selected by Biden, with the New York Times reporting that he “may well be anointing her as the de facto leader of the party in four or eight years”.

Former President Barack Obama said "Biden nailed this decision", and said Harris "is more than prepared for the job", in a tweet. US President Donald Trump said he was "surprised" as "nasty" and disrespectful”.

Though Harris has described herself as a “progressive prosecutor” during her time as a district attorney and attorney general in California, however, has faced criticism for her record on criminal justice, failure to embrace more progressive politics and the left of the party.

Tamil roots

Harris’ mother  Shyamala Gopalan, is a Tamil woman who grew up in Chennai, whilst her father Donald grew up in Jamaica.

In her memoir, Harris writes how she would visit Tamil Nadu almost every year and understands small amounts of Tamil. 

See extracts from her memoirs below.

I was also very close to my mother’s brother, Balu, and her two sisters Sarala and Chinni (whom I called Chitti, which means “younger mother”). They lived many thousands of miles away, and we rarely saw one another. Still, through many long-distance calls, our periodic trips to India, and letters and cards written back and forth, our sins of family - of closeness and comfort and trust - was able to penetrate the distance. It’s how I first really learned that you can have very close relationships with people, even if it’s not on a daily basis. We were always there for one another, regardless of what form that would take.

My mother, grandparents, aunts and uncle instilled us with pride in our South Asian roots. Our classical Indian names harked back to our heritage, and we were raised with a strong sense of awareness of and appreciation for Indian culture. All of my mother’s words of affection or frustration came out in her mother tongue - which seems fitting to me, since the purity of those emotions is what I associate with my mother most of all.

Harris also spoke about the influence that her parents’ activism had on her life. See below:

They went to peaceful protests where they were attacked by police with hoses. They marched against the Vietnam War and for civil rights and voting rights. They went together to see Martin Luther King Jr. speak at Berkley, and my mother had a chance to meet him… But my parents and their friends were more than just protesters. They were big thinkers, pithing big ideas, organising their community.

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