Seven things to know about Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris; photo credit: Indian American Impact Fund

Some relatively unknown facts about presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris — from her marriage and political career, to her love for cooking and visiting farmer’s markets.

California’s junior Sen. Kamala Devi Harris announced her presidential run this morning. Harris, known for her tough questioning of Trump appointees during Senate confirmation hearings, has been applauded as a firebrand activist, prosecutor and senator.  The 54-year-old chose Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — a symbolic move — to announce her run on Good Morning America and on Twitter.

Here are some relatively unknown facts about the senator — from her marriage and political career, to her love for cooking and visiting farmer’s markets.

She is the first Indian American Attorney General of California: Harris, who has an Indian Jamaican heritage, was born and raised in Oakland, California. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, immigrated to United States from Madras (now Chennai) in 1960. She was a breast cancer scientist and studied endocrinology and nutrition in America. Harris’ father, Donald Harris, emigrated from Jamaica to the United States in 1961 to study at University of California in Berkeley. She has a younger sister, Maya, who is also an attorney. Before becoming a US Senator, Harris was California’s attorney general. She has been the first woman, first Indian American and first African American to hold that position.

Harris is married to a Los Angeles attorney: Kamala Harris married Douglas Emhoff, a Los Angeles attorney, in 2014. Emhoff is of Jewish faith and has two children from a previous marriage — a son (Cole) and a daughter (Ella). According to reports, Harris met her husband on a blind date organized by a friend. Emhoff, a successful lawyer, was called to bar in Washington in 2017. To honor her husband’s Jewish faith, Harris smashed a glass (a Jewish tradition, where the bride and groom break a glass to celebrate) at their wedding. Emhoff has been both proud and supportive of his wife and he was behind the scenes at Good Morning America, when Harris announced her presidential run. He was also among the first to tweet his support for his wife. If Harris wins the 2020 elections, Emhoff will be the first-ever First Man!

Harris’ Indian influence: Harris, whose name first name, “Kamala,” means “lotus” flower in Sanskrit, has had considerable Indian influence in her life. She was very close to her maternal grandfather, P.V. Gopalan, who was an Indian diplomat. During her growing up years, Harris frequently visited India and spent time with her extended family, in the Besant Nagar neighborhood of Chennai. Harris is said to have attended both the Baptist black church and Hindu temple. Harris, whose love for Indian “korma” and chicken masala is well known, has been vocal about her Indian roots and has said in many interviews that she grew up with strong Indian culture. She even talked in detail about Indian cultural aspects in a 2003 interview with AsianWeek. She said: “All my friends were black and we got together and cooked Indian food and painted henna on our hands, and I never felt uncomfortable with my cultural background.”

Growing up years: Harris was influenced by the civil rights movement during her childhood. As a child, her parents would bring her to protest marches and demonstrations in the Bay Area. Harris’ parents divorced when she was 7 and her mother was granted the custody of children. Her mother then moved to Montreal, Quebec, where her mother researched at the Jewish General Hospital and taught at McGill University. Harris attended Montreal’s Westmount High School. She came back to the United States to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she majored in economics and political science. Harris campaigned for the position of freshman representative of the liberal arts student council at the university. She joined the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. After her undergraduate education, Harris returned to California to attend University of California, Hastings College of Law. After graduation, she was admitted to State Bar of California in 1990.

Career: In 1990, Harris took up the job as a prosecutor in Alameda County, California. She specialized in child sex abuse and domestic violence trials. She later moved to the San Francisco District Attorney Office. In 2003, she became the first ever woman District Attorney in San Francisco. In 2010, she ran for Attorney General of California and won the elections. She became the state’s first woman, first South Asian American and first African American Attorney General. In 2017, Harris was sworn in as a United States Senator for California, making her the first South Asian American senator in the US history. She serves on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence, The Committee on the Judiciary and The Committee on the Budget.

Career Highlights: In 2003, as a District Attorney of San Francisco, Harris began a program that gives first-time drug offenders a chance to earn high-school diploma and find employment. During her two terms as California’s Attorney General, she had many successful career breakthroughs. She won a $25 billion settlement for California homeowners hit by the foreclosure crisis. She also protected the Affordable Care Act and California’s landmark Climate Change Law. She was able to win marriage equality in California and prosecuted gangs. In the Senate, she introduced and co-sponsored legislation to raise working class peoples’ wages.

Her political stance: In the Senate, she has been among the most vocal members. In 2017, a day after President Trump was sworn in, she spoke at the historic Women’s March in Washington and called the president’s message “dark.” In January 2017, when Trump signed the “Protecting the Nation from the Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” executive order, Harris strongly pushed back against the order. She has been a very vocal critic of Trump’s immigration policies. She has also been very vocal about the importance of Affordable Care Act. In April 2018, she questioned Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s misuse of user data. Harris also visited one of the detention centers last year, in response to the administration’s family separation policy.

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