Kamala Harris: Heritage formed her career

NEW DELHI — Kamala Harris is lending her prosecutor’s instincts to the U.S. Democratic Party’s battle against President Donald Trump, as Joe Biden’s running mate. She also brings lessons learned during walks on the beaches of India with her maternal grandfather, and from her Indian-born mother’s experience as a newcomer to America.

Coupled with her Black roots from her Jamaican-born father, some analysts say Harris’ multiethnic background makes her uniquely positioned to connect with both African American and Asian American voters at a moment of intense anger over racial injustice.

Harris is the first woman of color on a major U.S. party’s presidential ticket.

“In the current political scenario [in the U.S.], where the Black Lives Matter movement is active, it’s a two birds with one shot kind of situation,” Vinod Janardhanan, a New Delhi-based journalist and independent researcher, said of Harris’ cross-cultural appeal just before Biden announced he was nominating the senator and former attorney general of California.

Janardhanan, who has studied the contributions of Indian Americans to both U.S. politics and India-U.S. relations, added that picking the 55-year-old would also “reflect how the Indian American community has come of age in terms of the political spectrum.”

Harris, whose first name Kamala means “lotus” in Sanskrit, was born in Oakland, California, to Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris. After her parents divorced, she and her younger sister were mainly raised by their mother, a civil rights activist and breast cancer researcher, who took her children on frequent trips to visit relatives in southern India.

Harris, who considers herself simply American, says her mother knew that her daughters would be seen as Black, first and foremost. In her autobiography, “The Truths We Hold,” Harris writes that her mother “understood very well that she was raising two Black daughters.”

“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.”

At the same time, Gopalan instilled a strong awareness and appreciation for Indian culture.

Harris often speaks of her Indian grandfather, a career civil servant and a powerful formative influence.

“We would go back to India like every other year,” Harris said of her childhood in a video posted on Twitter last September, when she was still running against Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination. Describing her grandfather as a “defender” of freedom in India, she recounted how she would join him on morning walks with his friends and listen to them talk about democracy and civil rights — how people should be “treated equally, regardless of where they were born or the circumstances of their birth.”

“Those walks along the beach in India really planted something in my mind and created a commitment in me — before I even realized it — that has led me to where I am today,” Harris said. (Nikkei)