Kamala Harris of Tamil Nadu origin, makes history as VP of USA

BBC News, Washington DC, January 20, 2021 (PST)

Kamala Harris being sworn in as US Vice-President in Washington DC on January 20, 2021 (BBC News)

Kamala Harris has made history as the first female, first black and first Asian-American US Vice-President.

She was sworn in just before Joe Biden took the oath of office to become the 46th US President.

Ms Harris, who is of Indian-Jamaican heritage, initially ran for the Democratic nomination.

A fearless fighter

But Mr Biden won the race and chose Ms Harris as his Running Mate, describing her as “a fearless fighter for the little guy.”

Prior to taking the oath at the US Capitol, Ms Harris paid tribute to the women who she said came before her.

“I stand on their shoulders,” she said in a video.

Eugene Goodman, the Capitol police officer who was hailed as a hero for steering a pro-Trump mob away from Senate chambers during the January 6, 2021 riot, escorted Ms Harris at the inauguration.

About Kamala Harris

Ms Harris, 56, was born in Oakland, California, to two immigrant parents: an Indian-born mother and Jamaican-born father.

Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a biologist whose work on the progesterone receptor gene stimulated advances in breast cancer research, arrived in the United States from Tamil Nadu  in 1958 as a 19-year-old graduate student in nutrition and endocrinology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Ms Gopalan received her PhD in 1964. Harris’ father Donald J Harris is a Stanford University Professor Emeritus of Economics, who arrived in the United States from British Jamaica in 1961 for graduate study at UC Berkeley. He received a PhD in Economics in 1966.

Along with her younger sister, Maya, Ms Harris lived in Berkeley, California, briefly on Milvia Street in Central Berkeley, then a duplex on Bancroft Way in West Berkeley, an area often called ‘the flatlands’ with a significant black population.

Visits to Chennai

As children, she and her sister visited their mother’s family in Madras (now Chennai) several times. She said that she has been strongly influenced by her maternal grandfather P V Gopalan, a retired Indian civil servant whose progressive views on democracy and women’s rights impressed her.

Ms Harris has remained in touch with her Indian aunts and uncles throughout her adult life. She has also visited her father’s family in Jamaica.

She went on to attend Howard University, one of the nation’s preeminent historically black colleges and universities. She has described her time there as among the most formative experiences of her life.

Ms Harris said that she has always been comfortable with her identity and simply describes herself as “an American.”

Please read: Why Kamala Harris embraces her biracial roots Kamala Harris and a 1986 snapshot of that Howard generation

After four years at Howard, Ms Harris went on to earn her law degree at the University of California, Hastings, and began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.

She became the District Attorney – the top prosecutor – for San Francisco in 2003, before being elected the first female and the first African American to serve as California’s attorney general, the top lawyer and law enforcement official in America’s most populous state.

In her nearly two terms in office as Attorney General, Ms Harris gained a reputation as one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars, using this momentum to propel her to election as California’s Junior US senator in 2017.

She was only the second black woman ever elected to the US Senate.

Shyamala Gopalan with her daughters Kamala and Maya (Family Photo)

Bid for Presidency

She launched her candidacy for President to a crowd of more than 20,000 in Oakland at the beginning of 2019.

But Ms Harris failed to articulate a clear rationale for her campaign and gave muddled answers to questions in key policy areas like healthcare.

She was also unable to capitalise on the clear high point of her candidacy: debate performances that showed off her prosecutorial skills, often placing Mr Biden in the line of attack, most notably criticising his praise for the “civil” working relationship he had with former senators who favoured racial segregation.

She dropped out of the Presidential race in December 2019.

But Mr Biden chose her as his number two in August, calling her “one of the country’s finest public servants.”

After Mr Biden was announced as the next president in November, Ms Harris tweeted a video of her congratulating her running mate.

“We did it, we did it Joe. You are going to be the next President of the United States!” she beamed.

The above article appeared on BBC News Website.


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