How Kamala Harris Wears Her Indian Heritage On Her Sleeve

Kamala Harris Indian Culture, blair building

In a few hours from now, Kamala Devi Harris will make history when she is sworn-in as the first woman and Indian-American-Jamaican person to take office as Vice President of the United States. As big a moment as it is for the West, her election to one of the highest seats in the US is also significant enough for India to feel pride over.

Madam Vice President (I think we can call her that now), who traces her maternal ancestry to Tamil Nadu, has never shied away from wearing her Indian-ness on her sleeve. From traditional food to dress, she has made her affinity to all things desi known more than once, in the run-up to her (professional) big day.

1. Throwback To Wearing A Saree

Last year, during the US election campaign, a photo of Harris in a saree, sitting amidst her Indian family, had gone viral. The photo, which also featured the now Vice President-elect’s grandparents, sister, and niece, showed her draped in a red saree, sporting a bindi, and a chopped hair. As the old, undated photo took social media by storm, it led many to deliberate over the probability of Harris choosing either a traditional Indian suit or a saree for the swearing-in ceremony. 

Though Harris has not been spotted in traditional Indian attire elsewhere, she has previously shared photos of her mother and aunt dressed either in a saree or a suit. 

2. On The Inspiration Her Mother Was 

Harris, on many occasions and from esteemed forums, has spoken at length on the kind of magnificent impact her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, had on her value systems, upbringing, and the feats she has achieved in life. Hailing from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, Shyamala Gopalan was a breast cancer researcher, who raised the American leader and her sister Maya as a single mother after separating from her husband Donald Harris.

In her memoir, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, Harris writes, “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”.

3. Love For Idli, Chai, And All Food Indian 

Like any Indian worth their desi-ness, Harris has openly professed her love for traditional foodstuffs both South and North India. During a social media interaction last year, when asked about her favourite Indian meals, she said, “So South Indian, it would be idli with… a really good sambar, and then North Indian – probably any kind of tikka.”

In a conversation with Mindy Kaling (who also has South Indian heritage), Harris recalled how the actor had “invited me to her home to cook masala dosa and talk politics.” She further added, “I’m sure our mothers up there right now having a good cup of chai.” 

4. Shoutout To Her Chitthis

Harris’ DNC speech last year, where she officially accepted her nomination as the Vice Presidential candidate for Democrats, had sent all of the Western world into a tizzy. Not only since it was a historic moment, but also because Harris made use of a till-then alien word for many Americans: chitthismeaning aunt in Tamil. Harris, who has iterated many times over the importance her aunts and family back in India hold in her life, had stated, “Family is my best friend, my nieces and my godchildren. Family is my uncles, my aunts and my chitthis.” 

Following Harris’ election win, her Chennai-based maternal aunt Dr Sarala Gopalan had said the family was “overjoyed that she has scripted history.” She also mentioned how Harris had been a “good child” and was always “good at whatever she did.”  

5. Celebrating Indian Festivities 

While it’s regular custom for world leaders to mark a notable festival from across the borders, when Harris with her Indian roots did it for a Diwali, it was sort of a big deal for many, since it communicated a public embrace of her ancestry when she wrote, “Happy Diwali and Sal Mubarak!” A more prominent moment came when last year, on August 15, Harris marked India’s Independence Day by tweeting about “how much progress our people have made in the fight for justice.” 

Feature Image Credit: Iknowpolitics.org

Views expressed are the author’s own.