September 2020 \ Diaspora News \ USA:DIASPORA AND POLITICS
Kamala’s Indian and Jamaican heritage creates new American dream

Kamala Devi Harris has deftly melded her dominant ...

By Arul Louis
  • Ms Kamala Devi Harris

Kamala Devi Harris has deftly melded her dominant African American identity with that of her Indian background as a Tamil to create the evergreen American classic of the immigrant dream. Born in the US to immigrants, cancer researcher Shyamala Gopalan from India and economics professor Donald Harris from Jamaica, Harris has leaped in a generation to running for a position that could put her a heartbeat away from the presidency.

She wrote in her memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” that she was raised in “a place where people believed in the most basic tenet of the American Dream: that if you worked hard and did right by the world, your kids will be better off than you were.” In August, Joe Biden, who is to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, announced that she would be on his ticket as the nominee for vice president.

Her multiracial background—which includes a layer of a White Jewish husband, Douglas Emhoff, and two step children—gives her a degree of identity fluidity to navigate American society riven by race and ethnicity. After her parents divorced when she was only seven, Harris was brought up by her mother, whom she has described as “tough and fierce and protective” yet “generous and loyal and funny,” and credits her for her success. In her memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” Harris wrote that the lesson “it was service to others that gave life purpose and meaning” that she inherited from her mother came from her grandmother Rajam, who had not completed high school but was a fiery protector of victims of domestic abuse.

Moving from New Delhi to Berkeley for her PhD in the tumultuous era of the 1960s civil rights movements, Shyamala Gopalan joined the protests “with a sense of justice imprinted on her soul,” Harris wrote. Her relationship with fellow-activist Donald Harris grew under the clamour of the protests and Kamala Harris recalls, “My parents often brought me in a stroller with them to civil rights marches.”