Sub-title: Indian diplomats: it is unlikely to change US foreign policy, India must assess calmly
Kamala Harris, 55, was born in the U.S. Her mother, Shyamala, came to the U.S. from India at age 19 to pursue her doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley, where she met Harris’s father, Donald, who is from Jamaica. The selection of Harris as Biden’s running mate has energized many Indians and Jamaicans.
Balachandran, 80, who is Harris’ uncle, broke into a huge smile at the news. Balachandran sees Harris’ rise as “inevitable” and says his niece is ready for the sordid business of future elections. When Harris became a senator in 2016, Balachandran flew to Washington for her inauguration. Now he’s hoping for a chance to see Harris become the new vice president of the United States next January.
Harris’s aunt, retired doctor Shara, said in an interview with the Indian media on 12 December that the entire family was pleasantly surprised by Harris’s news. She described her niece as “someone who never forgets her roots and believes in family values” and even said, “If I texted her right now and said, ‘Kamala, I need you’, she’d be here the very next day. ”
From Bollywood to politics, India is congratulating Harris, with actress Priyanka Chopra tweeting on 12 December that “this is a historic and transformative moment of pride for all women” and Shashi Tharoor, a member of India’s opposition Congress party, tweeting that a person of Indian descent was “just a stone’s throw from the Presidency”. With such a thin dividing line, this news is exciting”. In the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where Harris’ mother is from, the deputy Chief Minister tweeted that Harris’ nomination was “a proud moment for Indians, especially Tamilians”.
In addition to his Indian relatives, former Jamaican prime minister Patterson, who claims to have watched Harris grow up, also said Jamaica was thrilled that Harris had been chosen as a vice presidential candidate. Patterson and Harris’ father, Donald, were classmates at the University of the West Indies. The Washington Post said Jamaicans see Harris’ selection by Biden as the latest example of Jamaica’s enormous influence in the world. Claire, head of Jamaica’s immigration services, told The Jamaica Gleaner on 12 December that as a woman of Jamaican descent, Harris’ selection as Biden’s running mate shows that as a country, Jamaica has a lot of gold and is already shining on the international stage.
While Indians have been dissecting her family’s history in India on social media, picking up on where her grandparents lived in Chennai, Jamaicans have also joked on Twitter that “Harris’ father is Jamaican and she’s related to Jamaica”, Biden picked her for Vice President and as far as Jamaicans are concerned, we are the Vice President of the United States”. But some media outlets have poured cold water on India and Jamaica.
Canadian media outlet The Province reported that Harris’ parents divorced when she was young and Harris later went with her mother to Montreal, Canada, to live in a white community. Although Harris said her mother had a strong influence on her, she was more accustomed to being “African-American” than “Indian-American” and, as for her Jamaican heritage, she spoke of it when asked if she had smoked marijuana as a young girl. “With half of my family from Jamaica, what would you think?” The comment attracted Harris’ father’s ire.
Although Harris’s relatives said she often went to India as a child and knew some Tamil, the Modi Government has been criticized by Democrats, including Harris, who last year expressed “concern” about human rights issues in India’s conflict-ridden Kashmir region, after it established close ties with Trump. According to NPR, some Indians have expressed frustration with Harris’ stance on Kashmir, with some tweeting, “This is one of the reasons I don’t support Harris, she is only welcome by those who want to separate Kashmir, the homeland of my grandparents, from India.”
“Harris was brought up on rice, wood beans and potato curry, will her rise have an impact on Indian industry?” The Indian media, Times Now News, asked on 13 March, will her Indian origin really make a difference when her primary status is that of an American citizen? She was raised to be a proud African-American, despite her acceptance of her Indian heritage and her belief that her maternal grandfather and mother had a huge influence on her. Some Indian diplomats also believe that while the Indian-American Vice President is a matter of pride, it was unlikely to have any significant impact on U.S. foreign policy and that India must make a dispassionate assessment of Harris.
For American voters of South Asian descent, the nonprofit South Asian American Leadership Troupe (SAALT) believes that Harris becoming Biden’s partner is a historic event, but don’t make the mistake of focusing on her ethnic identity. Sridharan, the agency’s Director, told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post on 13 March, “As exciting as it is for an Asian American to take on this role, identity alone does not guarantee a candidate’s support and advancement of the South Asian community, as well as other black and brown communities”.