California senator Kamala Harris has become the first Black and Tamil woman to be elected the Vice President of the United States.
The 55-year-old California Senator was born in Oakland to two immigrant parents.
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, often using Tamil around the house to express “affection or frustration”. In her address to the Democratic National Convention earlier this year, Harris paid tribute to her 'chithis' (சித்தி) - a word in Tamil for aunties.
“Family is my uncles, my aunts — my chitthis,” she told the convention.
In a speech at a “South Asians for Biden” event earlier this year, Harris also reminisced on her times in Chennai. “Growing up, my mother would take my sister Maya and me back to what was then called Madras because she wanted us to understand where she had come from and where we had ancestry,” she said. “And of course, she always wanted to instil in us a love of good idli.”
Harris told the Washington Post in February 2019 that her heritage “was one of the things that I struggled with" when she first ran for office. "You are forced through that process to define yourself in a way that you fit neatly into the compartment that other people have created,” she added. “My point was: I am who I am. I’m good with it. You might need to figure it out, but I’m fine with it.”
Harris, far left, in a family photograph dressed in a traditional Tamil sari. (Courtesy of Sharada Balachandran Orihuela)
Harris' Chief of Staff, Rohini Kosoglu, also has a Tamil connection, with both of her parents hailing from Jaffna.
Though Harris has described herself as a “progressive prosecutor” during her time as a district attorney and attorney general in California, she has faced criticism for her record on criminal justice, failure to embrace more progressive politics and the left of the party.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us," tweeted Harris after the results were announced. "Let’s get started."