Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Kamala Harris, of Indian lineage, is Joe Biden’s running mate in US elections

Kamala Harris spent time in Lusaka Zambia in the late 1960s. Her maternal grandfather, an Indian civil servant, was on an assignment in Africa.

VP Gopalan was helping Zambia manage refugees from Rhodesia, representing Indian government. Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, had just become independent of colonial rule from Britain. It was Gopalan who fired Kamala Harris’ interest in public service.

Kamala is now vice-president nominated for the Democrats with Joe Biden as presidential face in the November elections against present president, Donald Trump of the Republicans.

Gopalan had passed on his passions to his daughter Shyamala who in turn had fired a similar zeal in Kamala and Maya, her younger sister, for excellence and helping others out.

Shyamala studied at Lady Irwin College in New Delhi. She studied home science which drew derision from family members. Her mother, Rajam, wanted her children to pursue careers in medicine, engineering or law.

Shyamala went to the United States at 19 which was big deal as not many unmarried Indian women used to go to the States for graduate studies. She studied nutrition and endocrinology at Berkeley, earning eventually a PhD, and joined the black civil rights movement where she met a brilliant Jamaican economics student, Donald Harris. The two got married in 1963. A few years later, Shyamala and Donald brought their daughters to Zambia.

Kamala was just five years old. It today sounds like a classic immigrant tale.

Shyamala divorced Donald in early 1970s and used to bring her daughters to India often, usually to Chennai, where her parents had settled after Gopalan had retired.

It sounds today like a classic immigrant tale, but Harris’ grandparents’ broad-minded values were uncommon for the India of that time. That family legacy doesn’t shine through in Harris’ speeches on the campaign trail, where she has struggled to break into the top tier. She seldom delves into her Indian heritage, reflecting a broader reticence to share personal stories beyond a handful of well-worn anecdotes.

In her 2019 memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” Harris wrote that Gopalan had been part of India’s independence movement.

Shyamala died in 2009 of complications from colon cancer. She was 70. Rajam, her mother, passed away later that year.

Kamala is only the fourth women to be chosen as a candidate for a major party’s presidential ticket. She is presently a senator from California. She has also served as district attorney in San Francisco.

Harris was sworn in as a United States Senator from California in 2017, only the second African-American woman and first South Asian-American senator in history. She served on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on the Budget.

She grew up in Oakland. And after earning an undergraduate degree from Howard University and a law degree from the University of California, Hastings, she a career in law in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. She became the district attorney of San Francisco in 2003.

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