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Kamala Harris' VP bid brings outpouring of pride among Indian Americans, a growing force in Democratic politics

Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Atlanta lawyer Amol Naik was surprised by his emotional reaction to Joe Biden's selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate.

It's not that Harris will be the first Black woman to be a major party's vice presidential nominee; it's that she will be the first Indian American.

"I have just been moved by it in a way that I didn't expect," said Naik, whose parents immigrated from India to North Carolina. "It's just really a remarkable thing that this could happen. It gives you a lot of faith in the country."

The California senator's ascent to the top tier of American politics drew an outpouring of pride among Indian Americans, a growing force in Democratic politics. They could reward Biden and Harris with crucial votes in the handful of states that will decide the election, along with a surge of campaign donations.

"You're going to see a lot of that being uncorked in the next few months," said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a University of California, Riverside public policy professor.

Historic breakthroughs have been a constant in Harris' 17 years in politics. She was the first Black woman to hold every office she has won -- San Francisco district attorney, state attorney general and U.S. senator from California. With the United States in the midst of a historic reckoning with systemic racism after George Floyd died when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, her status as the first Black woman tapped as a major vice presidential nominee has generated enormous media attention.

 

Less remarked upon has been Harris' distinction as the first Indian American to reach all of those positions. But Naik was one of many who saw Biden's choice of Harris as a watershed cultural moment for the nation's 4.5 million Indian Americans.

"It wasn't that long ago when Indian Americans were not at all part of the American mainstream," said Naik, who has worked in Georgia Democratic politics. "That's now happened. We have Sanjay Gupta on CNN. We have (comedian) Aziz Ansari -- people everyone knows. That was not the case in the 1990s when I was growing up."

Television director Kabir Akhtar wrote Tuesday on Twitter that it was "incredible to see an IndianAmerican on the ticket. a whole generation of us felt like outsiders in our country growing up. so happy for all the young women and POC in our country who can see someone who looks like them on the presidential ticket."

Harris is the daughter of two immigrants, a key aspect of her biography as she and Biden work to unseat President Donald Trump. A core part of Trump's political identity is his anti-immigrant agenda.

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