“We all have so much more in common than what separates us,” said U.S. Senator Kamala Harris during her speech at the Spelman College. The U.S. Presidential Election held on November 3rd, 2020, drew widespread attention to the U.S. for the last two months of the year. Since then, Kamala Harris has become widely known as the ‘first woman and woman of color as vice-president’. However, despite her reputation as one of the Democratic party's rising stars, what makes Harris similar to us as ordinary citizens?
Harris’s childhood, education, career, and family ties are no different from any other individual. Kamala Devi Harris was born on October 20th, 1964, in Oakland, California, and grew up in Berkeley, a city near her birthplace. Her father, Donald J. Harris, was a Jamaican-American economist and well-known professor emeritus at Stanford University, and her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was an American breast cancer researcher and civil rights activist.
After Harris’s parents divorced, she and her younger sister Maya were primarily raised by Shyamala Gopalan, their Hindu mother. Harris wrote in her autobiography, The Truths We Hold, that her mother "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." In 1986, Harris graduated from Howard University with a degree in political science and economics. According to her friend, Ms. Rosario-Richardson, Harris “had a sense of wit - even in the context of a university debate - to get those points across.”
Shortly after, Harris attended the University of California Hastings College of Law and served as the Black Law Student Association president and an advocate for greater campus diversity as part of the Legal Education Opportunity Program. She received her J.D. (Juris Doctor; a degree for law school) in 1989; in fact, she failed the bar exam on her first try, joining a list of other high-profile politicians who similarly fell short, including Michelle Obama and John F. Kennedy Jr.
Reportedly, Harris’s family was initially skeptical of her career choice; while she acknowledged that prosecutors have historically earned a bad reputation, Harris said she wanted to change the system from the inside. Harris told her law school’s publication, “Lawyers have a profound ability and responsibility to be a voice for the vulnerable and the voiceless.” She began work in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and became the district attorney (the top prosecutor) for San Francisco in 2003. After she was elected as the first woman and the first person of color to serve as California’s attorney general (the top lawyer) and law enforcement official in America’s most populous state. Harris’s reputation as one of the Democratic party’s rising stars helped propel her election as California’s junior US senator in 2017.
Harris also credits her maternal grandfather, P.V. Gopalan, a former Indian civil servant, for influencing her decision to enter the legal field. Harris spent a part of her childhood in Lusaka, Zambia, where she grew up in her grandfather’s home. There she frequently overheard his discussions with his friends about politics, corruption, and justice. “My grandfather was really one of my favorite people in the world,” she stated in an interview republished on CNN, expressing gratitude and affection towards her family.
In addition, back in 2014, Harris married lawyer Doug Emhoff and became a stepmother to his two children. In her article for Elle Magazine in 2019, she wrote about the experience of becoming a mother and unveiled the name ‘Momala’ that would replace the term ‘stepmom’, revealing her life as a parent that can be relatable to many other parents around the world.
Therefore, despite Harris’s current achievements and successes as a vice-presidential candidate, her early days are not much different from those of many others. In her victory speech, Harris encourages the world: “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.” She emphasizes her identity as a woman, making citizens await her inauguration as vice president to prove her capabilities.
Alexander Panetta. "How do key Black swing-state voters view Kamala Harris? It's complicated | CBC News." CBC. 20 Aug. 2020. Web. 24 Dec. 2020. <https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/kamala-harris-dnc-1.5693168>
BBC News. "Kamala Harris: The many identities of the first woman vice-president." BBC News. 8 Nov. 2020. Web. 24 Dec. 2020. <https://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2020-53728050>
Desk, Dh Web. "Kamala Harris’s Indian connection - her grandfather who sparked the." Deccan Herald. 12 Aug. 2020. Web. 24 Dec. 2020.<https://www.deccanherald.com/international/kamala-harris-s-indian-connection-her-grandfather-who-sparked-the-fire-for-public-service-872358.html>
Gene, Gene. "Let's Talk About Kamala Harris: Code Switch." NPR.org. 13 Oct. 2020. Web. 24 Dec. 2020. <https://www.npr.org/2020/10/13/923369723/lets-talk-about-kamala-harris>
Stanford University. "Breaking barriers: Madame VP Kamala Harris." Stanford News. 11 Dec. 2020. Web. 24 Dec. 2020. <https://news.stanford.edu/2020/12/11/breaking-barriers-madame-vice-president-kamala-harris/>
Image credit: Nikkei Asia