The Stunning Transformation Of Kamala Harris

In August 2020, Kamala Harris was announced as Joe Biden's vice-presidential running mate in the 2020 election (via The New York Times). The announcement instantly pulled Harris further into the spotlight as it signified a historic first for the country: Harris was the first person of Asian descent and the first Black woman to appear on a major party ticket for the presidential election. As of 2020, Harris is clearly at the top of her career — but has the vice-presidential nominee always been destined for political success?


As it turns out, Harris' upbringing had a lot of impact on both her career and her political views. Harris has spoken openly about her upbringing and her heritage. The List has uncovered some fascinating stories from Harris' past — from her early life with a single Indian mother to her influential years at a Black university — that help to explain how she became the history-making woman she is today. Here is the stunning transformation of Kamala Harris.

Being raised by two immigrant parents shaped Kamala Harris' life

Kamala Harris was born in 1964 in California to immigrant parents, according to the Los Angeles Times. Her mother was a scientist from India and her father was an emeritus economics professor originally from Jamaica. The two met while studying at Berkeley where they both took part in the civil rights movement.


As Berkeleyside explained, Harris and her sister Maya grew up in a segregated Berkeley due to racist housing policies known as redlining. Berkeley historian Steven Finacom described the community as "an integrated community with families of various races, both middle class and poorer residents."

However, Harris' parents ensured that she was raised in a "counter-culture environment," embracing her individual diversity. For instance, she and her sister were exposed to the civil rights movement from an early age, which, Harris believes, helped her to become the progressive politician she is today.

Kamala Harris' Indian mother chose to immerse her children in their father's culture

Even before Kamala Harris was born, her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was both active in the civil rights movement and interested in learning about Black culture, as reported by The Washington Post. Sharon McGaffie, a family friend of Gopalan, explained of Gopalan, saying, "Her Indian culture, she held on to that. But I think they grew up as Black children who are now Black women."


In Harris' autobiography, The Truths We Hold, she explained her Black sense of identity in more detail (via The Washington Post). "My mother understood very well that she was raising two black daughters," Harris wrote. "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."

It sounds like Gopalan understood the complexities of living as a Black woman in America and chose to focus on educating her daughters about that part of their heritage, at least during their childhoods. Harris certainly is lucky to have such an astute mother!

Kamala Harris got her sense of self from her single mother

Kamala Harris' parents, Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris, divorced in 1971 when Harris was still fairly young. After the divorce, Gopalan was granted custody of the couple's two daughters after a "hard-fought custody battle," as Donald revealed in an article for Jamaica Global Online (via O, The Oprah Magazine). 


According to The Washington Post, Kamala stayed in touch with her father, and even visited his family in Jamaica. However, the majority of her sense of self comes from her mother. As Harris once said, her mother was "most responsible for shaping us into the women we would become."

While Gopalan was always keen to give her daughters a strong foundation in Black culture, she was also careful to raise them with an understanding of their Indian heritage. Harris visited India where she was greatly influenced by her mother's father. In September 2019, Kamala wrote in an Instagram post that walking alongside him "made me who I am today and it's why I'm proud to launch our South Asians For The People community."


Kamala Harris had a transformative elementary school teacher

As a child, Kamala Harris was raised not only to appreciate her biracial heritage, but also to understand the importance of education. Harris told Berkeleyside, "Growing up, the first question asked of me at the dinner table was, 'What did you learn at school today?'" She went on to explain that her first-grade teacher made a significant impact on her approach to learning.


"Mrs. Wilson had a profound effect on all of us and was deeply committed to her students," Harris revealed. She added they were "a diverse group — ranging from kids growing up in housing projects to the children of people working at the university." In a November 2019 Instagram post, Harris revealed that she kept in touch with Mrs. Wilson and even invited her to her law school graduation.

In 2019, the senator announced on Twitter that she was part of a mural of women at Thousand Oaks Elementary School, where she was once taught by her beloved first grade teacher. According to the National Education Association, Harris, throughout her political career, has focused on improving the quality of education and retaining teachers in California schools. It's evident that Harris' early experience of inclusive, progressive education helped to shape her into the politician she is today.


Kamala Harris' childhood helped inspire this children's book

Apparently, Kamala Harris got her start in politics at a very early age — and the story is reportedly captured in a children's book! The book is by Meena Harris, Kamala's niece, and is called Kamala and Maya's Big Idea. According to Meena's Instagram, the book is inspired by real events from Kamala and her sister Maya's childhood. According to SheKnows, the two sisters had the idea to build a play area in the courtyard of their apartment building. When the landlord refused, Kamala wrote a letter and organized a troop of volunteers from the neighborhood children. Eventually, the girls were successful.


While it's unclear if the entire story is true, it's evident that Maya and Kamala were intelligent and persuasive even as kids. Maya spoke to Glamour about their shared childhood, saying, "We were always taught to stand up for ourselves, to stand up for others, to speak up."

Kamala Harris attended a distinguished HBCU school

Kamala Harris eventually chose Howard University in Washington, D.C. for her undergraduate degree. According to The Washington Post, Harris chose Howard because she "wanted to be surrounded by black students, black culture and black traditions at the crown jewel of historically black colleges and universities." And it was there that Harris no longer felt part of a minority.


"When you're at an HBCU [historically Black college or university] 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 many find each other," Harris told the publication.

At Howard, Harris joined Alpha Kappa Alpha, the oldest historically Black sorority. There, she made friends with people who became "like family," as she told USA Today. Years later, her sorority sisters still have Harris' back — some have even organized fundraisers and campaigned for her over the years. It's clear that Harris' time at Howard, and the people she met there, have made a huge impact on her life. As she herself once said, "Howard very directly influenced and reinforced — equally important — my sense of being and meaning and reasons for being."


Kamala Harris went on to study law while living with her sister and her niece

After graduating from Howard University, Kamala Harris went on to obtain another post-graduate degree in law. She attended the University of California's Hastings College of Law, according to Forbes. Harris once recalled how she was leading a sort of double life at the time. Apparently, she was living with her sister Maya, who, at the time, was raising her newborn.


"I'm dealing with this brutal stuff, dog-eat-dog in school," Harris told Politico, "and then I would come home and we would all stand by the toilet and wave bye to a piece of s**t." While Harris has no children of her own, this experience of working full-time and helping to raise her niece may have helped her to understand the struggles that single mothers face.

In fact, she even gave Maya a shout out for Mother's Day on Instagram, saying, "One invaluable gift she's given me is to show me what a phenomenal mother looks like." Trust Harris to manage law school and helping to take care of a little one at the same time!

It took Kamala Harris a while to embrace her Indian heritage publicly

Kamala Harris has always been proud of her Black heritage, but it took her a little while to speak publicly about her mother's Indian heritage. As The Washington Post pointed out in 2019, many of Harris' close friends didn't initially realize the Senator was of Indian descent. Aziz Haniffa, executive editor of India Abroad, told the publication, "It's only been in the last year or so that she's really come out and embraced [this part of her heritage]."


Shekar Narasimhan, an activist for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, also commented on how Harris began to really embrace her Indian roots in 2018 and 2019. "I'm so glad she has discovered her Indian-ness. It's sudden, but I absolutely love that it's happening. It's not something she has exhibited over the years." As far as Harris is concerned, she has never felt one heritage more than the other; they "are of equal weight," she once told India Abroad (via The Washington Post).

Kamala Harris married lawyer Douglas Emhoff in 2014

Kamala Harris met fellow lawyer Douglas Emhoff on a blind date that was set up by filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, according to NBC News. Apparently, Hudlin's wife was close friends with Harris and came up with the whole idea. Hudlin then gave Emhoff Harris' number, and he texted her later that night while he was at a Los Angeles Lakers game. 


Harris explained in her autobiography The Truths We Hold, that Emhoff was pretty much head over heels after the first date. "The morning after our first date, Doug emailed me with a list of his available dates for the next couple of months," she wrote (via NBC News). According to Harris, Emhoff's email said, "I'm too old to play games or hide the ball. I really like you, and I want to see if we can make this work."

And work it did. In 2014, the couple married. Harris went on to describe the multicultural ceremony in her book (via Jewish Tampa Federation). "In keeping with our respective Indian and Jewish heritage," she wrote, "I put a flower garland around Doug's neck and he stomped on a glass." It sounds like this couple has been going strong since the very beginning.


Kamala Harris is a loving "momala" to her husband's children

When Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff married in 2014, he already had two children from a previous marriage. Harris, thus, became the children's stepmother, as she explained to Elle. Cole and Ella, Emhoff's children, were welcoming and friendly to Harris from the beginning. "They are brilliant, talented, funny kids who have grown to be remarkable adults. I was already hooked on Doug, but I believe it was Cole and Ella who reeled me in," she explained. The children decided to call Harris "momala" —a play on the name Kamala — instead of "stepmom."


Over the years, the family has become incredibly tight-knit. Harris is now friends with Emhoff's first wife, and they even used to attend Ella's swim meets and basketball games together. By the sounds of things, Harris didn't just gain a husband when she married Emhoff, she also gained two amazing kids and lifelong friend in Emhoff's ex!

Kamala Harris was the San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general

In terms of Kamala Harris' career, she has risen through the ranks pretty quickly. After becoming a lawyer in 1990, she became an assistant district attorney in the Alameda County prosecutor's office. In 2003, she became the district attorney of San Francisco, becoming the first Black woman to ever have the role. In 2010, she won the election for California attorney general by a margin of just 0.8 percent (via Politico).


During her time as district attorney and attorney general, Harris received both praise and critcism for her approach to the criminal justice system. As Vox pointed out, her prison diversion program and her racial bias training program for police officers were one-of-a-kind reforms. However, law professor Lara Bazelon claimed that "Harris did not barter or trade to get the support of more conservative law-and-order types; she gave it all away." Yet, as Vox explained, "Harris's supporters argue that these criticisms sell her short."

Kamala Harris became a U.S. senator in 2016

In 2016, Kamala Harris became the first Indian-American United States senator, beating out the experienced Loretta Sanchez (via Business Insider). The Los Angeles Times commented that her win was a hugely significant step towards equal representation in U.S. Congress. Her victory came at a monumental time in U.S. politics; at her victory party, her supporters were apparently watching the TV as Trump edged his way closer to presidential victory.


Harris used her victory speech as an opportunity to rouse her supporters for the coming years under President Trump. "When we have been attacked and when our ideals and fundamental ideals are being attacked, do we retreat or do we fight? I say we fight!" It's clear that this moment in Harris' past marked the beginning of her campaign against Trump that would end in her joining Joe Biden on the 2020 Democrat ticket.

Kamala Harris ran for president in 2020

Three years after becoming a U.S. senator, Kamala Harris began a campaign to become the president of the United States. According to CNN, she had a difficult but promising campaign that was cut short due to a lack of money and support. Joe Biden won the place on the ticket. However, later in 2020, Biden announced that Harris would be joining him as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee (via The Washington Post).


The announcement signified yet another monumental achievement for Harris and another first for America: Harris became the first person of Asian descent and the first Black woman to to appear on a presidential ticket in the country's history, as The New York Times noted. The historical announcement was reportedly well-received by Jamaicans and Indians around the world. For instance, Sanjay Jha, an Indian political commentator, said that Biden's choice for V.P. was a "triumph of diversity and democracy."

Kamala Harris isn't keen on comparing herself to Barack Obama

While Kamala Harris' presidential campaign for 2020 was unsuccessful, her place on the Democratic ticket shows that her political career is just getting started. Several political commentators have already suggested that Biden is gearing up for a 2024 campaign that sees Harris at the helm of the Democratic ticket. Some have even compared the vice-presidential nominee with another history-making politician: Barack Obama.


However, according to The Washington Post, Harris has no wish to be compared to former President Obama. In fact, she apparently once said in an interview that she would prefer to be judged on her own merits. Looking back at Harris' powerful, progressive upbringing, we can completely see where her fierce sense of identity comes from. One thing's for sure: As her career continues, she is sure to continue making history and creating her own legacy as Kamala Harris and no one else!