12 Things You Probably Did Not Know About Kamala Harris, America’s First Female Vice President
On January 20, 2021, Kamala Harris – an Oakland, California-born lawyer and former U.S. Senator – was sworn into office as the 49th Vice President of the United States of America. By so doing, the former Attorney General of California etched her name into the annals of history as the first woman, first Black and first South Asian to hold the office of the Vice President. Her inauguration came on the back of a hard-fought 2020 presidential campaign that saw she and Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden defeat incumbent President Donald Trump.
Worldhistoryedu.com presents 12 things that you probably did not know about US Vice President Kamala Harris.
Kamala Harris’ parents were not born in the United States
On October 20, 1964, Kamala Devi Harris was born at the Kasier Hospital in Oakland, California, to Shyamala Gopalan Harris and Donald Jasper Harris.
Her mother, Dr. Shyamala Harris (1938-2009), at the age of 19 migrated to the United States to enroll as a biology and nutrition student at the University of California, Berkeley. Similarly, Kamala Harris’ father Donald J. Harris migrated from the Caribbean nation of Jamaica to study a graduate course in economics at the University of California.
Both parents of Kamala Harris would go on to have very successful careers in their respective fields. For example, Donald Harris, aside from being an a professor at Department of Economics, Stanford University, spent a great deal of time working as an economic consultant to the Jamaican government and public policy consultant to a plethora of international bodies, including the United Nations and the World Bank.
Kamala Harris was born about two years into her parents’ marriage. Both her parents met at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1962. Following her parents’ divorce in 1972, Kamala and her sister Maya were basically raised by her mother Gopalan.
Did you know: Kamala Harris’s mother Dr. Shyamala Gopalan, aged 70, died of colon cancer on February 11, 2009?
The Vice President’s name in Sanskrit means “lotus”
Steadfastly staying true to her Indian roots and background, her parents picked the name Kamala as her first name. In Sanskrit, Kamala Harris’ first name means “lotus”. The decision to give her a Sanskrit name was in keeping up with her Indian heritage and cultural values. Interestingly, the name “Kamala” is one of the names of the famous Hindu goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, good things and hard work.
Additionally, if one were to translate Kamala Harris’ middle name, Davi or Devi, in Sanskrit, the result would be “goddess”. The Vice President’s mother, Dr. Gopalan, was a very religious woman and believed that women were greatly empowered in a society that worships goddesses.
Kamala Harris’ parents were devout civil rights activists
Irritated by the deplorable conditions people of color in the U.S. were subjected to, Kamala Harris’ parents – Shyamala and Donald Harris – in their hay days campaigned vigorously against all forms of racism. On some occasions, they even took young Kamala Harris to those peaceful protests. That’s probably why Kamala Harris devoted her entire future career to serving the public, as she hoped to reform the system from the inside.
Did you know: At just the age of 13, Kamala Harris, along with her younger sister Maya, staged a peaceful protest against a policy that prevented kids from having access to public facility in her Montreal neighbourhood?
Harris was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority
Deeply in touch with her Black roots, when it was time to picking a college, Kamala saw no other than Howard University, a leading institution among the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the U.S. Ever since graduating from Howard in 1986, Kamala Harris has showered the school with enormous praise for its role in instilling in her a set of values that went a very long way in shaping her future.
While at Howard, the Vice President was a member of the first Black Greek Letter Organization for women – the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. In addition to actively participating in the school’s famous debate team, she also chaired the economics society.
Did you know: Kamala Harris was the president the Black Law Students Association at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law?
The Vice President is a big fan of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Unbeknownst to many people, Vice President Kamala Harris grew up absolutely loving C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), one of the seven books that made up The Chronicles of Narnia children’s series. Growing up, she was a voracious reader, reading any book that her hand could lay upon.
Other favorite books of the Vice President include Native Son written by African American writer and poet Richard Wright (1908-1960), The Joy Luck Club by Chinese American novelist Amy Tan, and Song of Solomon by Pulitzer Prize-winning African American novelist Toni Morrison (1931-2019).
First woman and first African American to be elected Attorney General of the State of California
In January, 2011, California welcomed its first woman Attorney General in its history. Kamala Harris went into the 2010 election with an impressive resume, having being the District Attorney General of San Francisco from 2004 to 2011. She even made history in that position, being the first person of color to hold that office in San Francisco.
Receiving the endorsements from famous women politicians in the state, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Kamala Harris defeated Los Angeles County district attorney Steve Cooley in the general election held in November, 2010. Her strong stance on protecting consumers’ privacy rights and numerous criminal justice reforms were just some of the reasons why Californians kept faith in her and re-elected her in November 2014.
Kamala Harris was friends with President Joe Biden’s late son Beau Biden
Kamala Harris got introduced to the Joe Biden through the late Beau Biden, Joe Biden’s eldest child. At the time of their introduction, Harris was the Attorney General of California while Beau was the Attorney General of the U.S. state of Delaware. The two state attorneys maintained close ties, particularly during the 2008/2009 financial crisis that rocked the nation.
Sadly Beau Biden, who also served as Major in the Delaware Army National Guard, passed away while in office. The cause of death was an aggressive type of brain cancer – Glioblastoma. Kamala Harris credits Beau Biden with inspiring her to become a better public servant.
She has maintained a very strong stance on violent crimes
Ever her admission to the California Bar in June 1990, Kamala Harris has devoted her life career to pursuing criminal justice reforms. This was evident during her tenures as District Attorney of San Francisco and State Attorney General of California. In spite of her receiving sharp criticisms for her tough stance on non-violent crimes, including marijuana crimes, the data shows that Kamala Harris during her tenure at the San Francisco’s D.A.’s office had lower sentences for people convicted of marijuana offenses.
With regard to violent crimes, Harris never shied away from cracking the whip on violent criminals. At the time that she was sworn into the San Francisco’s D.A.’s office, the murder rate per capita was very high in the district. She secured an impressive 36 convictions out of the 49 violent crimes that she took to trial. She supported moves for criminal defendants to pay higher bail, especially gun-related crimes.
Kamala Harris has fought against hate crimes throughout her public career
Harris worked very hard and made sure that a gun crime unit was created. She also created the Hate Crimes Unit to rein down on violent hate crime offenders. She famously made sure that the 17-year-old Gwen Araujo, who was murdered callously by two men, got the justice deserved. Harris argued her case before the court to dismiss the “gay panic defense” that the defendants used.
Ultimately, her hard work paid off as the two men were convicted of second-degree murder. Kamala went on to push for the passage of the A.B. 1160 (the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act), which got signed by then-state governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in September, 2006.
Kamala Harris has been a strong opponent of the death penalty
In the lead up to her election as San Francisco’s District Attorney, Kamala Harris expressed her strong opposition to the death penalty, preferring a life sentence without parole for such heinous crimes. She argued that the death penalty not only put a dent on the society but was also a cost-ineffective form of punishment.
Kamala Harris reasoned that those savings from carrying out a death penalty sentence could be channeled into effective community policing. She showed this resolve of hers when immense pressure was put on her to seek the death penalty for the murderer of Isaac Espinoza, a San Francisco Police Department Officer. Instead, at every turn, she sought life in prison without parole, a decision that majority of voters in San Francisco agreed with.
Vice President Harris met her husband on a blind date
On August 22, 2014, Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff tied the knot at a ceremony in Santa Barbara, California. Harris met Emhoff, an attorney who mainly takes cases in the entertainment industry, through a mutual friend of hers. The pair was set on a blind date in 2013 and just as the saying goes, the rest is history.
Ever since taking her union vows, Kamala Harris has cherished her role as stepmother to Emhoff’s two children – Cole and Ella – with his ex-wife Kerstin Emhoff. It was revealed that her stepchildren preferred calling “Momala” instead of “stepmom”. The current Vice President has stated how much of an inspiration her family, particularly her stepchildren, are to her on a daily basis.
She has authored a number of books
Kamala is not just an avid reader of books, she has also written some herself, three actually, two non-fiction books and one children’s book.
The first book that she wrote was in 2009. Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer (2009) – a non-fiction book – delves into Kamala Harris’s take on criminal justice in the country as well as how reforms could be introduced to make the system more humane and in line with current state of the society.
Harris’s second book – a children’s book – was titled, Superheroes Are Everywhere (2019). The book was aimed at kids between the ages of three and seven. It is full of themes of how kids can learn from such an early age to always stay true to what is just and fair.
Her third book, which was titled The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, was released just before she began her 2019 presidential campaign. It was meant to communicate her deep-held values and personal beliefs about what it takes to be a genuine American patriot.
Quick Facts about Vice President Kamala Harris
Full name at birth: Kamala Devi Harris
Birthday: October 20, 1964
Place of birth: Oakland, California, U.S.
Parents: Shyamala Gopalan Harris and Donald Jasper Harris
Sister: Maya Harris
Husband: Douglas Emhoff (married in 2014)
Education: University of California – Hastings College of the Law (Juris Doctor in 1989); Howard University (graduated in 1986 with a BA in political science and economics); Westmount High School (1981)
Bar: Admitted to the California Bar in June 1990
Political party: Democratic
Elected offices: 49th Vice President of the United States (2021- ); U.S. Senator from California (2017-2021); 32nd Attorney General of California (2011-2017); 27th District Attorney for San Francisco (2004-2011)
Notable Accomplishments: America’s first female and first African-American vice president; First female African-American Attorney General of the State of California