Like Kamala, Neera stands on the shoulders of her Indian mother

Kamala Harris and Neera Tanden
Kamala Harris (left) and Neera Tanden. Photo credits: U.S. Senate Historical Office and Center for American Progress

Both single mothers struggled to give their daughters a shot at the American dream.

Neera Tanden, the first Indian American named for a cabinet level position in a Democratic administration, fondly recalls how her India born mother helped her rise like that of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

“Like the Vice President-elect’s mother, Shyamala, my mother, Maya, was born in India,” recalled Tanden Tuesday after being introduced by President-elect Joe Biden as his nominee to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

“Like so many millions, across every generation, she came to America to pursue a better life,” Tanden said at an event in Wilmington, Delaware where Biden and Harris introduced their economic team.

“I was raised in a suburb of Boston — a middle-class kid,” said Tanden. “But when I was five, my parents got divorced and my mom was left on her own with two children — and without a job.”

“She faced a choice — return to India, where at the time divorce was stigmatized and opportunity would be limited — or keep fighting for her American Dream,” she said.

“She stayed, and America came through for her when times were tough,” said Tanden recalling her single mother’s grit to keep her family afloat through adversity.

READ: Kamala Harris remembers her Indian American mother as she officially launches her White House bid (January 29, 2019)

“We relied on food stamps to eat. We relied on Section 8 vouchers to pay the rent. We relied on the social safety net to get back on our feet,” she said. “This country gave her a fair shot to reach for the middle class and she made it work.”

“She got a job as a travel agent, and before long, she was able to buy us our own home in Bedford, Massachusetts, and see her children off to college, and beyond,” recalled Tanden.

“I’m here today thanks to my mother’s grit, but also thanks to a country that had faith in us, that invested in her humanity, and in our dreams,” she said.

Tanden said she was “here today because of social programs. Because of budgetary choices. Because of a government that saw my mother’s dignity, and gave her a chance.”

Now, it’s her turn “to help shape those budgets and programs to keep lifting Americans up, to pull families back from the brink,” she said. “To give everybody the fair chance my mother got, and that everyone deserves.”

“That’s the America Maya and Shyamala were drawn to — the America the President-elect and Vice President-elect are ready to grow,” she said.

“I believe so strongly that our government is meant to serve all the American people — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike, all of whom deserve to know that their government has their back,” Tanden said.

Thanking Biden and Harris for the trust placed in her, Tanden said, “I’m especially proud to work alongside leaders who understand that budgets are not abstractions.”

“They are a reflection of our values. They touch our lives in profound ways. Sometimes, they make all the difference,” she said.

READ: Sen. Kamala Harris pays tribute to her Indian American mother (January 8, 2019)

Introducing Tanden as a “a brilliant policy mind with critical practical experience across government,” Biden noted, “She will be the first woman of color and first South Asian American to lead the OMB.”

“She will be in charge of laying out my budget that will help us control the virus, deal with the economic crisis, and build back better,” he said.

Congratulating Biden on “choosing this outstanding economic team,” Harris said, “This is the team we need to deliver immediate economic relief to the American people, to get our economy back on track, and to make sure it works for working people.”

“We were raised to respect the dignity of work,” she said. “That’s why I’ve always fought for working people — from standing up for middle class families who’d lost their homes in the Great Recession to joining picket lines to advance workers’ rights.”

“And I look forward to collaborating with this extraordinary team to put working people front and center in this administration,” Harris said describing them as “some of America’s most brilliant minds.”

Giving a glimpse of their agenda, Harris spoke of the team’s “commitment to building an economy — an America — where everyone has access to a higher minimum wage and affordable health care.”

“Paid family leave and paid sick leave. Homeownership, and capital to start a small business,” she said. “An America where opportunity is within reach for everyone. For all The People.”

“So, we’ve got a lot of work to do, to build that America. And President-elect Biden and I, with this economic team, will be ready to hit the ground running on day one,” Harris promised.


Kamala Harris: the first African American and Indian American woman senator (November 30, 2019)

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