Atlanta lawyer Amol Naik was surprised by his emotional reaction to Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate.
It’s not that Harris will be the first black woman to be a major party’s vice presidential nominee; it’s that she will be the first Indian-American.
“I have just been moved by it in a way that I didn’t expect,” said Naik, whose parents immigrated from India to North Carolina. “It’s just really a remarkable thing that this could happen. It gives you a lot of faith in the country.”
The California senator’s ascent to the top tier of American politics drew an outpouring of pride among Indian-Americans, a growing force in Democratic politics. They could reward Biden and Harris with crucial votes in the handful of states that will decide the election, along with a surge of campaign donations.
“You’re going to see a lot of that being uncorked in the next few months,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a University of California, Riverside public policy professor.
Historic breakthroughs have been a constant in Harris’ 17 years in politics. She was the first black woman to hold every office she has won – San Francisco district attorney, state attorney general and US senator from California.
With the United States in the midst of a historic reckoning with systemic racism after George Floyd died when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, her status as the first black woman tapped as a major vice presidential nominee has generated enormous media attention.
Less remarked upon has been Harris’ distinction as the first Indian-American to reach all of those positions. But Naik was one of many who saw Biden’s choice of Harris as a watershed cultural moment for the nation’s 4.5 million Indian Americans.
“It wasn’t that long ago when Indian-Americans were not at all part of the American mainstream,” said Naik, who has worked in Georgia Democratic politics.
“That’s now happened. We have Sanjay Gupta on CNN. We have [comedian] Aziz Ansari – people everyone knows. That was not the case in the 1990s when I was growing up.”
Television director Kabir Akhtar wrote Tuesday on Twitter that it was “incredible to see an Indian-American on the ticket. A whole generation of us felt like outsiders in our country growing up. so happy for all the young women and POC [people of color] in our country who can see someone who looks like them on the presidential ticket.”
Harris is the daughter of two immigrants, a key aspect of her biography as she and Biden work to unseat President Donald Trump. A core part of Trump’s political identity is his anti-immigrant agenda.
Harris rarely speaks publicly about her father, Donald Harris, a Jamaican-born economist who taught at Stanford University.
But she often talks about her late mother, breast cancer researcher Shyamala Gopalan, who moved from India to California in the late 1950s to study at the University of California, Berkeley.
In an interview in June on a Los Angeles Times podcast, Asian Enough, Harris said her mother was “conscious of race” when raising her and her sister, Maya, in racially segregated Berkeley in the 1960s and ’70s.
“She knew that in America, her daughters would be treated, for better or worse, as black women and black children, and she raised us with a sense of pride about who we were, who we are,” Harris said. But it was “never to the exclusion of always being very proud and very active in terms of our Indian culture as well.”
“We grew up in the black community and learned that you could cook okra with mustard seeds _ or with dried shrimp and spicy sausages,” Harris said with a laugh.
The Harris sisters visited their grandparents in Chennai, in south-eastern India, a number of times when they were growing up. The media in India covered Biden’s selection of Harris