Ritu Jha –
Members of the Indian American community expressed excitement and pride after learning of Kamala Harris, the Democratic senator from California, entering the 2020 presidential race.
Harris, 54, is a daughter of immigrants, who came to the United States for higher education. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a breast cancer researcher, came to America from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. Her Jamaican father Donald Harris, came to the US to study economics at the University of California at Berkeley, Harris is married to attorney Doug Emhoff.
Rumors about Harris running for 2020 were floating even before the Indian American Impact Fund meeting last year. But she waited till Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 21, to officially announce her campaign, “Kamala Harris For The People.” With this, she joins fellow Democratic women candidates Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and also Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu American candidate to run for president.
Amar Shergill, the executive board member of the California Democratic Party, told indica, “Kamala Harris represents the new strength of the Democratic Party; we win when we support women and diversity.” He said that Harris will need to build a national campaign that energizes voters with strong progressive values.
“However, as a South Asian, I’m excited to see her energize our community,” Shergill said.
Raj Goyle, co-founder, and chair of the Impact Fund, which endorses Indian American candidates based on their viability and commitment to the values of the community, told indica, “The Indian American Impact Fund is thrilled by Senator Harris’ groundbreaking announcement today.”
“As the first viable Indian American candidate for president of the United States, she is a trailblazer for our community and a champion for our values,” Goyle said. “We applaud her decision and look forward to supporting her enthusiastically in the days and months ahead.”
Goyle himself was the first Asian American elected in Kansas history and the first such Democrat elected to a state house seat in Wichita in 2006.
M.R. Rangaswami, the founder of Indiaspora, told indica, “It’s a very proud moment for all of us. It also shows the community is becoming more influential and making a bigger impact.” He said that when Indiaspora was started in 2012 there were no Indians in Congress. Now there are five.
“Nobody can now take our community for granted. They have to come and earn our support,” Rangaswami said.
Asked about the choice between endorsing Harris and Gabbard, he said both had reached out to Indian Americans.
“Our community is not one where everybody is going to agree on one candidate,” he said. “Also, there might be one who would support other candidates. But the Indian American community is now becoming influential, writing more checks. And we can have a bigger say in what happens in the United States.”
Asked about Harris’s relative silence on immigration issues, he said it was early days yet and that those would come up in time.
“She has a great immigrant story to tell as a daughter of immigrants who came to this country and raised her,” he said, adding that both candidates have been active in the community and that Harris has been engaging the community in the Washington, DC area.
Democratic activist and fundraiser Frank Islam also expressed his appreciation of the senator.
“Kamala Harris had an excellent reputation as California’s attorney general and has comported herself well in her first 2 years as a US senator,” Islam told indica. “With her announcement … she becomes the seventh person to enter the race. It is estimated that the field might eventually reach twenty to twenty-four. Given this, it is far too early to tell what her odds of winning the nomination are. It is not too early, however, to assert that she will need to move beyond being the coastal, racial or progressive candidate to get there.”
According to Islam, “She needs to establish a broad appeal, a policy agenda that is [different] and [a] message and a grassroots organization in each state to prevail. Time will tell whether she has the right stuff herself and the staff support and good council to accomplish that.”
Harris, who President Barack Obama called a trailblazer, is a fast-rising political figure, making her name as attorney general of California, from 2011 to 2017, when she won the contest for US senator from California.
However, the path to White House won’t be easy for Harris.
The New York Times op-ed by Lara Bazelon, a law professor and the former director of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles has denounced Harris when she served as California’s attorney general wrote, “Harris was an attorney general and district attorney who acted in ways that could hardly be described as “progressive.” “The senator was often on the wrong side of history.”
Born in Oakland, California, Harris graduated from Howard University and University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
Her 2020 press campaign release begins with words “Decency. Justice. Truth. Equality. Freedom. Democracy.”
According to the campaign release, “These aren’t just words: they’re the values we, as Americans, cherish. Right now, they’re all on the line.
“We face the greatest crisis of leadership we’ve seen in our lifetimes, and powerful voices are filling the void, sowing hate and division among us.
“We’ve witnessed an administration that aligns itself with dictators and refers to white supremacists as ‘very fine people.’ They’ve torn babies from their mothers’ arms and put children in cages.
“They’ve slashed taxes for corporations and the wealthiest among us — placing the burden on the middle class. They’ve actively fought against efforts to combat climate change. Time and again, they’ve sabotaged our country’s health care. And they’ve attacked our free and independent press at every turn.”