The Indian American community received a sparkling Diwali gift on October 24 with both the White House and Vice President Kamala Harris hosting festive celebrations in their respective premises.
Indian American community leaders called it “a euphoric moment.” Some said that Harris is finally becoming comfortable politically with her Indian heritage. “This is a double shot in the arm for us Indian Americans,” a community leader said.
The White House on October 24 invited Indians in large numbers to celebrate the Indian festival of lights that is observed by not just Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, but is seen as a melting pot of Indian inclusive culture. It is now an annual fixture at the White House.
President Joe Biden said at the Diwali reception, “We are honored to host you. This is the first Diwali reception of this scale in the White House ever to be held. We have more Asian Americans than ever before in history and we want to thank you for making the Diwali celebration a joyous part of American culture.”
The Harris Diwali celebration was on October 21 and was non-partisan. The Vice President invited over 150 people to her official residence on the grounds of the United States Naval Observatory.
The Harris celebration was filled with fireworks that Harris used to enjoy when she was a child and would celebrate back at her ancestral home in India. Attendees said the gathering felt like it was their extended family.
MR Rangaswami, founder of Indiaspora, and a close aide of Harris, said it was “a double shot in the arm for the community.”
Rangaswami told indica, “Vice President Harris first hosted a gathering at her residence and then followed by the big hoopla at the White House hosted by President Biden. Diwali truly elevated us on the national stage – a proud moment for our community.”
Ramesh Kapur, who heads the US India Security Council and is a Democrat who has hosted several fundraising political personalities in the US, said, “Our Indian-American community itself is coming out for the first time for her.” Kapur was one of the distinguished attendees.
He added, “This is the first time our community has collectively shown the respect we have for her, and made her feel like she is also one of our own. She also feels comfortable that she can be black and Indian at the same time. Both of us have accepted it.”
He added that when she was in California, “We did not support her as a community as we should have.”
When Harris announced her presidential campaign in Oakland, CA, Kapur flew in from Boston to show his support. But the Indian American community was not in full force to show its backing.
At the Diwali event, Harris did not use Indian attire, but was wearing gold jewelry, a Hindu tradition during festivals. There was also a Bollywood and south Indian dance performance near the swimming pool. Indian American community leaders from both Democratic and Republican ideologies were present. Kapur welcomed Harris’ move of keeping the celebration bi-partisan.
“Yes, it was bipartisan and many from the Washington area were invited. I always felt Diwali should be bi-partisan,” said Kapur, who was one of the Democratic co-chairs for the Biden-Harris campaign. “Her inviting all [Democrats and Republicans] also marked the 75th year celebration of India’s independence.”
Republican Shekhar Tiwari, chairman of the American Hindu Coalition said, “Looking at Kamala Harris, people resonate with her mother Dr. Shyamala Gopalan Harris. It seemed to me she (Kamala Harris) had kept herself in the closet all this time.”
He said, “On October 21, she basically came out of the closet. She was thrilled, and talked about her childhood in Chennai, celebrating Diwali with fuljhari (sparkles). She sent her husband Douglas Craig Emhoff to talk about her and then she took the stage.”
Tiwari said that because she was ambitious about becoming President, she knew that she not going to get power with her Indian identity, so she created a South Asian and Black identity. “That gave her a much bigger platform.”
Tiwari also felt that Diwali was also a moment to learn about her and her husband. “Her husband is not Indian and does not know how Indians behave culturally, and it was interesting to learn from him, his perception of Indians,” he said with a little laugh. “Harris,” Tiwari said, “looked like a little girl, someone who is cherishing her identity.”
Tiwari said he was glad that Harris’s Diwali celebration was bi-partisan. “She is not Vice President of only Democrats. I was invited and she really brought her expanded Indian American family.”