How Kamala Harris’ immigrant parents shaped her life — and her political outlook

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In the three weeks since she launched her presidential campaign, Kamala Harris has quoted one figure more than any other: her mom.

“My mother used to say, don’t sit around and complain about things, do something,” Harris told 20,000 supporters at her kick-off rally in Oakland. She would also tell a young Harris that “you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last,” the California senator said at events in Iowa and South Carolina.

The story of Harris’ parents — immigrant academics from very different parts of the world chasing their American Dream to the Bay Area — has become a key part of her message as she introduces herself to the country.

Harris regularly describes her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, as the most important influence on her life. A breast cancer researcher from India who had a powerful presence despite her five-foot stature, she died of colon cancer in 2009. Donald Harris, Kamala’s father, is a retired leftist Stanford economics professor from Jamaica who studied issues such as income inequality but was less of an impact on her life after the couple divorced when she was a child.

Kamala Harris’ parents, Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris, immigrants from India and Jamaica, in an undated portrait. (Courtesy of Kamala Harris)

Like presidential hopefuls before her — Barack Obama’s stories of his single mom waking him up at 5 a.m. to study, or Bill Clinton’s tales of his mother supporting the family after his father died in a car crash — Harris is using her parents as the embodiment of the values she’s fighting for. To her supporters, her family’s immigrant story comes as almost an implicit rebuke of President Trump’s policies limiting immigration to the U.S. — even as she’s already had to deal with false “birther” conspiracies among some on the far right.

For a candidate who admits that she feels more comfortable talking about politics and policy than her personal life, sharing her family’s experience also represents an easier way to connect with voters.

“She has been telling her family’s story her entire political career,” said Jim Stearns, who ran Harris’ first campaign for San Francisco district attorney. “Everybody has to find their own foundation story, and she’s been consistent — she places a lot of value on her roots, and her mom is a huge impact.”

Love in a time of protest

Both of Harris’ parents came to UC Berkeley for graduate school and unexpectedly found themselves staying because of each other.

Gopalan was the precocious daughter of an Indian diplomat and a women’s rights activist in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu. After graduating from the University of Delhi at age 19, she moved to Berkeley to pursue a doctorate in nutrition and endocrinology, having never set foot in the U.S. before. Donald Harris also excelled at a young age, graduating from the University College of the West Indies …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics


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