Kamala Harris made history on Saturday as the first woman to become vice president of the United States. And she didn’t stop there.
Harris is also the first Black woman as well as the first South Asian American to be elected to such high office. She and incoming President Joe Biden have won their bid against President Donald Trump and will be sworn in this January.
Harris was named Biden’s vice presidential pick in August, and she brings an extensive career in public service to the role. She has served as California’s junior senator for nearly four years, and sits on the powerful Judiciary and Intelligence committees.
During her time in the Senate, she became known for her pointed questioning of Trump administration nominees and officials including Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as Attorney General William Barr.
The daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, both of whom were civil rights activists, Harris has said that combating racial disparities has been a central focus of her career.
She graduated from Howard University in 1986 and the University of California’s Hastings Law School in 1989, and has focused heavily on what she describes as reforming the criminal justice system from within.
Before becoming a senator, Harris served for six years as California attorney general and two terms as San Francisco district attorney.
Eventually picked by Biden as his running mate, Harris had made a run to be the Democratic Party’s nominee herself, before bowing out of the crowded primary field and later endorsing Biden. As a presidential nominee, Harris took more moderate stances on issues including health care, though she is considered liberal relative to most members of the Senate.
Her younger sister Maya Harris, a lawyer who was previously the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, served as her campaign chairwoman during the primaries.
Her mother's daughter
Harris said there were two reasons she was running for president. The first, she said, was a sense of duty to restore truth and justice in the country at an inflection point in history. The second: a mother who responded to gripes with a challenge.
“She’s always told the same story,” her friend Mimi Silbert told the Associated Press. “Kamala had one important role model, and it was her mother.”
The Harris sisters are the daughters of the late Shyamala Gopalan, a renowned breast cancer researcher and biomedical scientist, whose work in “isolating and characterizing the progesterone receptor gene stimulated advances in breast biology and oncology”. She was a naturalized US citizen, having left the country of her birth at the age of 19 to pursue her studies at the prestigious University of California, Berkeley.
There she met and married Donald J. Harris, a Jamaican-American economist and professor emeritus at Stanford University. They came to California from opposite sides of the world just as protests exploded around civil rights, the Vietnam War and voting rights. Their paths crossed in those movements, and they fell in love, according to AP.
Eventually they got married and had two daughters. The couple later separated, amicably enough, with Harris reporting the only fight that took place was over “who got the books”.
Harris made regular visits to her grandparents in Tamil Nadu. Her childhood was grounded in Indian values with her parents giving their daughters exposure to both Black and Indian culture.
In her memoir, ‘The Truths We Hold: An American Journey’, Kamala has written, “There is no title or honor on earth I’ll treasure more than to say I am Shyamala Gopalan Harris’s daughter. That is the truth I hold dearest of all”.