View: The Kamala Harris effect on Indian Americans

Harris — like every person who’s spent time in politics — also comes with detractors and controversy. Her politics are not always seen as “cool” though she’s been called the most liberal member of the Senate, others still bristle about her serving...

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Kamala Harris
ET Spotlight
By Snigdha Sur

The year 2020 has been a strange one. There’s been an itch to seek comfort in the old — to rewatch Gilmore Girls or The West Wing or Vampire Diaries. There’s also been an openness to try the new — Pelotons, the connected indoor bike with a cultish following, have been flying off the shelves. But 2020 — shockingly — has also been the first year I didn’t have to explain who Indian Americans or South Asian Americans are. I have Netflix’s Never Have I Ever and Indian Matchmaking and California Senator Kamala Harris — the first Black and Indian-origin vice presidential candidate in US history — to thank.

I am of the generation that never had to vote for a white man until 2020. I still remember that day clearly in 2008 when Barack Obama made history. I was a freshman in college and the whole campus went nuts and literally held hands and sang Kumbaya.


The reason I give away my age is because I am of a particular generation of Indian American millennials who didn’t feel very “cool” growing up. As Hari Kondabolu points out in his documentary, we were the kids that grew up with The Simpsons’ Apu as our main form of representation (with the occasional Kevin G in Mean Girls). I still distinctly remember having hair so long that my mom would oil and braid it; I’d be embarrassed to let anyone touch my hair. My nails would turn yellow from the turmeric in the daal I ate with my hands — which is truly the best way to eat — and I’d have those red henna spots on my palms after a wedding.

Most of our childhoods, it seems, were spent hiding our culture. I probably took several standardized tests while I was fasting for some festival or the other. I definitely pronounced words like “bedraggled” or “awry” wrong because I had never heard my parents say those words as a child.

But I digress

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I’m envious of the next generation. The miracle of 2020 — at least evidenced by the plethora of TikTok videos and Instagram Reels — is that it’s now “cool” to be Indian American, to have culture. Kamala Harris is one version of this “cool”. She wears Converses and skinny jeans and sharp blazers. She doesn’t feel pressured to have kids, is the coolest aunty to Meena and the coolest grand-aunty to Meena’s kids, inspiring young kids to dress up as her for Halloween. She can just as easily fiercely debate Joe Biden and grill people in Senate hearings as she can graciously accept Biden’s nomination to be vice president. There’s a beautiful eventuality in this deal — if Biden wins, he’ll be the first vice president since George HW Bush in the 1980s to be elected president, and the second after Martin Van Buren in the 1830s. If Biden wins, Harris, too, can rerun for President.

Harris — like every person who’s spent time in politics — also comes with detractors and controversy. Her politics are not always seen as “cool” though she’s been called the most liberal member of the Senate, others still bristle about her serving as state prosecutor. People are still arguing whether she truly embraces her Indian identity. (Notably, I first heard Harris speak at an Indian American event two years ago.) When it comes to identity, each of us should be able to choose how we identify. It’s why some of us Indian Americans pronounce our names completely differently from how someone who can speak a South Asian language would.

Part of why culture has become cool is because America as we know it is changing. The electorate is getting younger and more diverse, and Black, Hispanic, and Asian registered voters are more likely to lean Democrat. They’re far more comfortable seeing a person of colour in power. It’s more like seeing themselves. I’d like to think that folks like Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley faced different pressures to succeed in mainstream America, that they had to assimilate more than if they weren’t in the public eye in Southern states that traditionally vote red.

That said, by no means is America perfect — I mean, just look at how this election is going down. Even in New York City, my home for the majority of my life, I still walk into stores with people staring at me as if I can’t afford what they’re selling. I go to my gym to have the front desk sometimes ask me, then ask me again, to show them my ID, in case I sneaked in. And I still have to explain to folks how Indian Matchmaking or Never Have I Ever isn’t reflective of all realities. And that’s why I’m still building for the next generation. Once we get over the fact that hey, we’re Indian American, yes we are different, we can move on. We don’t have to simplify or translate or personsplain ourselves, our culture, our history, why we know Bollywood trivia but don’t know how to celebrate Diwali (my family celebrates Durga Puja). We can just be us, in all our multiplicity. Or, well, that’s the hope.

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The author is founder & CEO of The Juggernaut, a New York-based publication reporting on global South Asian stories.
Kamala Harris: The inspiring story of many firsts
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Known as the "female Obama", first time Senator Kamala Devi Harris has scripted history by becoming first woman, Black and Indian-American vice president of the United States.



Harris was picked by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as his running mate in August, months after she suspended her own presidential dreams, saying she lacked the financial resources to continue her campaign.

Known as the "female Obama", first time Senator Kamala Devi Harris has scripted history by becoming first woman, Black and Indian-American vice president of the United States.Harris was picked by Dem..
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Harris is known for many firsts. She has been a county district attorney; the district attorney for San Francisco - the first woman and first African-American and Indian-origin to be elected to the position.



She now has several firsts in her role as vice president also: the first woman, the first African-American woman, the first Indian-American and the first Asian-American.

Harris is known for many firsts. She has been a county district attorney; the district attorney for San Francisco - the first woman and first African-American and Indian-origin to be elected to the p..
Read More

When Biden picked her as his running mate recognising the crucial role Black voters could play in his determined bid to defeat Donald Trump, she was the just the third woman to be selected as the vice president on a major party ticket. Then-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in 2008 and New York Representative Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 were the other two.



During the Obama era, she was popularly called the "female Obama". She is considered to be close to Barack Obama, the first black American President, who endorsed her in her various elections including that of the US Senate in 2016.

When Biden picked her as his running mate recognising the crucial role Black voters could play in his determined bid to defeat Donald Trump, she was the just the third woman to be selected as the vic..
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Harris was born to two immigrant parents: a Black father and an Indian mother. Her father, Donald Harris, was from Jamaica, and her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a cancer researcher and civil rights activist from Chennai. She, however, defines herself simply as ‘American'.



After her parents divorced, Harris was raised primarily by her single mother. She says that her mother adopted black culture and immersed her two daughters - Kamala and her younger sister Maya - in it. Harris grew up embracing her Indian culture, but living a proudly African American life. She often joined her mother on visits to India.

Harris was born to two immigrant parents: a Black father and an Indian mother. Her father, Donald Harris, was from Jamaica, and her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a cancer researcher and civil rights acti..
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Harris was born in Oakland and grew up in Berkeley. She spent her high school years living in French-speaking Canada - her mother was teaching at McGill University in Montreal. She attended college in the US, spending four years at Howard University, which she has described as among the most formative experiences of her life. After Howard, she 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 top prosecutor for San Francisco in 2003, before being elected the first woman and the first black person to serve as California's attorney general in 2010, the top lawyer in America's most populous state.



In her nearly two terms in office as attorney general, Harris gained a reputation as one of the rising stars of the Democratic Party. She was elected as California's junior US senator in 2017.

Harris was born in Oakland and grew up in Berkeley. She spent her high school years living in French-speaking Canada - her mother was teaching at McGill University in Montreal. She attended college i..
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Harris has been married to her husband Douglas Emhoff, a lawyer, for the past six years. She is the stepmother of two children, Ella and Cole.

Harris has been married to her husband Douglas Emhoff, a lawyer, for the past six years. She is the stepmother of two children, Ella and Cole.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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