Daughter of immigrants makes history again as first woman, first black and first Indian American vice president.
Eighteen minutes before noon Wednesday, Kamala Harris, daughter of an immigrant mother from India, made a tryst with destiny as she assumed the mantle of the first woman Vice President of the United States.
Harris’ ascent smashing another glass ceiling was a uniquely historic moment with her Jamaican heritage from her father’s side making the first person of Indian descent also the first Black woman to reach th second highest office in the country.
As she took oath of an office just a heartbeat away from the world’s most powerful job, on West front of the US Capitol, Harris must have been “thinking about my mother, who’s looking down from heaven,” as she told NPR recently.
Dressed in a purple ensemble crafted by by Black designers Christopher John Rogers and Sergio Hudson, with husband Doug Emhoff standing by her side, Harris put her left hand on two bibles and raised her right hand to be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a historic figure in her own right.
Sotomayor, the first Latina woman to serve on the apex court, had also sworn in Joe Biden as Barack Obama’s vice president in 2013 for his second term.
In using two bibles, Harris, the 10th Black and only the second Black woman senator, carried with her “two heroes who’d speak up for the voiceless and help those in need,” as she tweeted barely 24 hours earlier.
One belonged to the late civil rights icon and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and the other to Regina Shelton, a family friend whom Harris viewed her as her “second mother”.
Like her role model, Harris too graduated from the historically Black Howard University in Washington before earning a law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of Law.
Ten Minutes later, Biden, who had last August shown “the audacity to choose a Black woman to be his running mate …breaking one of the most substantial barriers,” in their way, was sworn in as America’s 46th president by Chief Justice John Roberts.
In tune with the inauguration’s “America United” theme, Biden, 78, also making history as the oldest person to enter the White House on inauguration day, spoke about the need to bring America together during an unprecedented moment of crisis.
In contrast with inaugurations past, especially the one of America’s first Black president, when over 1.5 million filled the National Mall from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, from where Martin Luther King Jr had made his famous 1963 “I have a dream,” speech only a select gathering watched the ceremony.
Over 25,000 National Guard troops stood guard over an almost empty National Mall filled instead with 200,000 brilliantly flags representing all 56 American states and territories, only two weeks after supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump had stormed the Capitol.
Again in a break with tradition, Trump was conspicuous by his absence leaving it to his deputy Mike Pence to oversee the transfer of power.
But at hand to witness the dawn of a new era were former presidents, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and George Bush with their spouses besides Emhoff, also making history as America’s first second gentleman, all wearing masks.
So were Harris’ two step children, Ella and Cole who she says are her “endless source of love and pure joy.”
Millions of others in the US and around the world, including Harris’ uncles and “chitthis” as she affectionately calls her aunts in her native Tamil, in India watched the incredible journey of this feisty daughter of two immigrants from distant lands.
Harris’ mother — “one unsung woman on whose shoulders I stand on,” as she put it accepting her nomination back in August —Shyamala Gopalan “came here from India at age 19 to pursue her dream of curing cancer.”
Gopalan and Kamala’s would be father, Donald Harris, who had come from Jamaica to study economics. “fell in love in that most American way—while marching together for justice in the civil rights movement of the 1960s,” Harris then recalled.
Born on October 20, 1964 in Oakland, California, then a hub for civil rights and anti-war activism, Harris got “a stroller’s-eye view of people getting into what the great John Lewis called ‘good trouble.’”
When she was five, her “parents split and my mother raised us mostly on her own” working “around the clock to make it work.”
“She made it look easy, though I know it never was,” Harris said. “My mother instilled in my sister, Maya, and me the values that would chart the course of our lives.”
Her mother, Harris said had “raised us to be proud, strong Black women, proud of our Indian heritage.”
Gopalan told Kamala growing up “Don’t sit around and complain about things, do something,” which is what drives Harris every single day, as her official biography puts it.
Harris has fallen into the habit of doing something. Starting her prosecutorial career in Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, she became the first Black woman elected as San Francisco’s District Attorney in 2003.
Seven years later, Harris became the first Black and Indian-American woman to be elected California Attorney General, overseeing the country’s second largest Justice Department, only behind the US Department of Justice.
Before her resignation from the Senate Monday, Harris served on the Senate committees on Intelligence, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs as also Judiciary.
Biden has chosen to make Harris his “full partner” involving her in every decision in building a diverse team “that looks like America” putting nearly two dozen Indian Americans, including 13 women, in key jobs.
“On every decision that we have made as an incoming administration, we’re in the room together, Joe and I,” Harris told NPR in an interview last week recalling Biden’s promise to make her the “last person in the room” as Obama had done to his then running mate back in 2008.
But circumstances have made Harris’ role even more crucial. With the Senate split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, she may have to serve as a tie-breaker in her other role as Senate President.
Though she hopes the Senate “will instead find common ground and do the work of the American people” Harris is set to play a decisive role in getting their nominees confirmed and take their agenda —including comprehensive immigration reforms — forward.