Kamala Devi Harris, also known as the "female Obama," made history on Saturday with her election as the US vice president. Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, became the first woman, first Black woman, and the first person of South Asian descent to be elected vice president, adding several firsts to her name.
Outspoken against Donald Trump and his handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Harris has been known to shatter glass ceilings in her life. The US Vice President-elect has spent her life notching up a long list of firsts: the first Black woman to be elected district attorney in California history, the first woman to be California's attorney general, first Indian American senator, and now, the first Black woman and Indian-American vice president of the United States.
In 2016, the 56-year-old leader became the second black woman to serve in the US senate. Following the crucial US presidential election this year, here's a closer look into the life and career of Harris:
Born on October 20, 1964, in Oakland, California, Harris' father and mother emigrated from Jamaica and India, respectively. Harris' mother, Shyamala Gopalan was a cancer researcher from India, and her father Donald Harris was an economist from Jamaica.
Harris got married to Doug Emhoff, a corporate lawyer in Los Angeles, in 2014 at a private ceremony officiated by her sister Maya. Emhoff has two children from his previous marriage and they call Harris 'Momala'.
Gopalan, Harris' mother, emigrated from Tamil Nadu, a state in South India. In all her recent speeches, Harris has been vocal about her roots and has also spoken about how she used to visit her maternal home in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, to spend summers with her grandfather who worked as a civil servant in the Government of India.
Harris and her sister Maya, who is also a political activist and has worked for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, were raised by their mother as their parents separated when Harris was just seven-year-old. Their mother passed away in 2009.
Embraced both her South Asian and Black identities
Harris went to both a Black Baptist church and a Hindu temple as a child, embracing both her South Asian and Black identities. "My mother understood very well that she was raising two black daughters and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud black women," Harris later wrote in her autobiography.
Harris completed her middle school and high school in Montreal after her mother got a teaching job at McGill University and a position as a cancer researcher at Jewish General Hospital. She later went to Howard University, a historically black college in Washington DC, and majored in political science and economics, and joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
She later pursued law at UC Hastings. After completing law, Harris worked for eight years at the Alameda County District Attorney's office, where she prosecuted child sexual assault cases. Later, she served as San Francisco's District Attorney from 2004 to 2011 and California's Attorney General from 2011 until 2017. During her years-long stint as California's Attorney General, Harris grabbed the attention of national democrats, including the 44th US President Barack Obama.
Harris, who is known for advocating and fighting for progressive reforms in California, introduced a program for first-time drug offenders in San Francisco to offer them education and work opportunities instead of serving jail time. She also defended the state's death penalty and fought to harshly punish the parents of chronically truant school children.
During her stint as California's attorney general, Harris had faced criticism from reformers for the tough-on-crime policies she pursued. She also faced backlash when she supported a law that made truancy a misdemeanor and opposed the use of recreational marijuana. One of her most debated decisions came in 2004 when she refused to pursue the death penalty against the man who murdered San Francisco police officer Isaac Espinoza.
She also drew criticism during her tenure as San Francisco district attorney when a technician stole cocaine from the DA's crime lab and mishandled evidence. Harris tried to keep things under wraps and failed to inform defense attorneys. While serving as California's Attorney General, she had reportedly refused to investigate the police shootings of two black men.
Running for President
In 2019, Harris had announced that she was running for President. During the first Democratic debate in June, she confronted Joe Biden over his position on cross-district busing in the 1970s. Recounting how she was personally affected by it, she said, "There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day. That little girl was me."
Although her poll numbers briefly surged after the debate, it only went downhill from there. This speech by Harris on racism in the United States immediately went viral and grabbed many eyeballs. However, she later had to withdraw herself from the US Presidential race due to lack of funds. In an email to her supporters, Harris said she didn't have the financial resources to continue running for the post.
In 2020, Biden chose Harris as his vice-presidential candidate and said: "Back when Kamala was Attorney General, she worked closely with (my son) Beau. I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I'm proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign."
According to a Wall Street Journal report, Harris had raised $1.5 million from 38,000 donors online in the 24 hours after announcing her presidential run. However, by that time she had withdrawn herself from the presidential bid.
A little about the Queen of many firsts
- She is an enthusiastic cook who bookmarks a number of recipes from the New York Times' cooking section and has tried almost all the recipes from Alice Waters' 'The Art of Simple Food'.
- She is a huge fan of sneakers as she collects Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers, which are her go-to travel shoes.
- Her favorite books include 'Native Son' by Richard Wright, 'The Kite Runner' by Khaled Hosseini, 'The Joy Luck Club' by Amy Tan, 'Song of Solomon' by Toni Morrison, and 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' by C.S. Lewis.
- She usually wakes up around 6 a.m. and works out for half an hour. She starts her day with a bowl of Raisin Bran with almond milk and tea with honey and lemon before leaving for work.
Her motto comes from her mother: "You may be the first, but make sure you're not the last." Harris echoed similar sentiments when she addressed the nation on Sunday after her historic election as vice president of the US.
"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 and to the children of our country regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: dream with ambition, lead with conviction and see yourselves in a way that others may not simply because they've never seen it before," Harris said in her first post-election address to the nation.
Harris also paid tribute to the women, particularly Black women, whose shoulders she stands on as she shatters barriers. "Tonight, I reflect on their struggle, their determination, and the strength of their vision to see what can be unburdened by what has been," Harris said, dressed up in a white suit in tribute to women's suffrage.