Personally and politically, Kamala Harris has had a meteoric past 10 years. She has gone from being San Francisco’s District Attorney to California’s Attorney General to a U.S. Senator. And now, she is the vice president-elect of the United States of America!
Because of these major career moves, most people (even her biggest fans) have only focused on Harris’s recent years. But the truth is that she had an amazing childhood. And the years between that childhood and becoming a young adult shaped her into the influential woman she is today. Here is the amazing transformation of Kamala Harris.
Raised by immigrants
One of the reasons that Kamala Harris truly understands the American experience is that her parents were immigrants. She was born to an Indian mother, cancer researcher Shyamala Gopalan, and a Jamaican father, Donald Harris, a Stanford University economics professor, in California in 1964.
Because she grew up in a segregated area of Berkeley, you might expect Harris to resent her childhood. But her parents were Civil Rights activists. They encouraged her to speak out against repression as part of the counter-culture movement.
In short, Harris has seen firsthand what the power of progressive movements can do to oppressive institutions. And she learned it all thanks to her countercultural parents.
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Embracing her Black heritage
In her autobiography The Truths We Hold, Harris writes about growing up biracial in segregated America, along with her younger sister Maya.
“My mother understood very well that she was raising two black daughters,” Harris writes. “She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as black girls, and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud black women.”
Lenore Pomerance, a family friend, explained to The Washington Post the difficulties of identity for the Harris family in the ’60s. “Her mother was Indian,” Pomerance says, “but in the ’60s, you were either black or white. There was no real distinction between Caribbean or Indian.”
Harris herself does not see the point in obsessing over distinctions. When asked how she describes herself, she said, “I describe myself as a proud American.”
Inspired by her single mom
Harris’s mother inspired her in many ways and even encouraged her to run for president. But one of her most important lessons came in 1971. This was when her parents divorced.
The divorce was messy, with her father later telling Jamaica Global Online that it was a “hard-fought custody battle.” Kamala would stay close to her father via letters. But she spent much of her formative years raised by a single mother.
This taught young Kamala and her sister Maya how to be independent and how to fight for their place in the world. Or as Harris puts it (via The Washington Post), her mom was “most responsible for shaping us into the women we would become.”
Obviously, Harris’s mother had a major influence on the woman she would later become. But she had other mentors. This included an elementary school teacher that had a profound effect on her upbringing.
In an interview with Berkeleyside, Harris revealed that a first-grade teacher named Mrs. Wilson “had a profound effect on all of us and was deeply committed to her students.” This was all the more impressive because Wilson had students “ranging from kids growing up in housing projects to the children of people working at the university.”
How influential was Wilson? Harris actually stayed in touch with her and even invited Wilson to her law school graduation!
Formative years at Howard University
Harris had a bright future ahead of her and could likely have attended any university she wanted. But after attending majority-white schools her entire life, she ultimately chose Howard University, a prominent HBCU (historically Black college and university).
Going to an HBCU meant she need not feel like a minority. “When you’re at an HBCU,” Harris told The Washington Post in 2019, “and especially one with the size and with the history of Howard University… it just becomes about you understanding that there is a whole world of people who are like you. It’s not just about there are a few of us who may find each other.”
To cap things off, Haris joined the oldest historically Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. And these college years helped cement her Black heritage while she forged deep connections that would last a lifetime.
Living with her sister
Eventually, Harris went on to attend law school at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law. And this would ultimately bring her closer to her sister Maya as well as her niece.
Harris lived with her sister while attending law school, and she saw firsthand how much of a struggle single motherhood could be. But watching her sister was also inspirational. And the experience would stick with Harris for many years.
More recently, Harris praised her sister via Instagram, writing, “One invaluable gift she’s given me is to show me what a phenomenal mother looks like.” And that gift all started when they crashed together during Harris’s law school years!
Professionally, Kamala Harris has had many accomplishments in the last few years. One of her biggest personal accomplishments was marrying the partner of her dreams.
Harris married lawyer Doug Emhoff back in 2014. Emhoff has children from a previous marriage, and they quickly bonded with Harris. Harris has even said that his children call her “Momala” as a combination of “mom” and “Kamala.”
Best of all, Doug has been very supportive of her career and political ambitions. He took leave from his law firm to help with the presidential campaign. And he was the proudest one of all when Harris and Biden won the election. Now, when Harris makes history as America’s first female vice president, Emhoff will make history too as America’s first “second gentleman.”