Kamala Harris wears many hats. She’s a vice presidential contender. She’s a Democratic senator. But before anything else, she was Donald Harris and Shyamala Gopalan’s daughter, two immigrant academics who met after they traveled to the University of California Berkeley for graduate school.
Gopalan, who was Indian, opted to reject the cultural tradition of arranged unions to marry Donald Harris, a Jamaican, who would go on to teach economics at Stanford. They married while they were still at Berkeley, and Harris was born in Oakland, where her mother worked.
Harris’ parents were active in the protests that defined the ’60s, and she tells everyone she grew up with a, quote, “stroller-eye view of the civil rights movement” because her parents would take her to rallies and demonstrations when she was just a child.
She told The Washington Post,
“I grew up in a hot spot of the civil rights movement. But that civil rights movement involved Blacks, it involved Jews, it involved Asians, it involved Chicanos, it involved a multitude of people who were aware that there were laws that were not equally applied to all people.”
When Harris was seven, her mother and father separated after her father moved to take a professorship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They subsequently divorced and Gopalan won custody of the girls. Harris explained,
“They didn’t fight about money. The only thing they fought about was who got the books.”
The family stayed in Berkeley, and Harris had to travel by bus to a white neighborhood to go to school. She and her sister Maya often had to go to the lab where Gopalan worked as a cancer researcher to help clean test tubes.
When they couldn’t go to work with their mom, the girls went to a daycare run by Regina Shelton, who often took them to the Twenty Third Avenue Church of God, an African American protestant church in Oakland. Harris’ bond with Shelton was so strong that the bible she used during her swearing in as California’s Attorney General and Senator was the same one that Shelton carried to church every Sunday. One of Harris’ longtime friends, Karen Clopton, told The Washington Post,
“She has always been engaged in African American politics, community struggles, community organizations, and life.”
While Harris kept in touch with her father and his family, it would be her mother who played a more significant role in shaping her girls. As a result, Harris and her sister Maya had a rich, multicultural childhood. Harris explained,
“All my friends were Black and we got together and cooked Indian food and painted henna on our hands, and I never felt uncomfortable with my cultural background.”
They traveled regularly to both Jamaica and to India to visit family on both sides, helping the future politician develop an appreciation for the world at large.
When Harris was in middle school, her mother, who had experienced both racism and sexism at Berkeley, decided to teach and do research in Canada’s McGill University. Harris finished high school in Montreal and returned to the U.S. to go to college, but instead of going to Berkeley, she went to Howard University, a Historically Black University located in Washington, D.C., where she double-majored in economics and political science. From there, she returned to California for law school, passed the bar the second time around, and became a prosecutor.
When The Washington Post asked Harris how her African American upbringing influenced her, she said,
“It’s kind of like asking how did eating food shape who I am today. It affects everything about who I am. Growing up as a Black person in America made me aware of certain things that, maybe if you didn’t grow up Black in America, you wouldn’t be aware of.”
But she is Indian, too, and she remembers, even if the media has only recently taken note of that fact. Harris explained that both sides of her carry equal weight, and added,
“We have to stop seeing issues and people through a plate-glass window as though we were one-dimensional. Instead, we have to see that most people exist through a prism and they are a sum of many factors.”
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Read the full article here: https://www.thelist.com/235746/the-untold-story-of-kamala-harris-childhood/