US Election 2020: Kamala Harris gives America a Second Family full of firsts

Kamala Harris’s husband Doug Emhoff on Saturday tweeted a picture of them hugging, a photo taken soon after she was projected as vice-president-elect of the US, with the words: “So proud of you”.

Harris was jogging when the news broke, and tweeted a video of a call with her boss, Joe Biden, “We did it, we did it Joe! You’re going to be the next President of the United States!”

Harris is a first in a number of ways: the first woman, the first Black person and the first Indian-American to serve the second highest office in the US.

Her husband will make history, too. He will be the first man and first Jewish person to serve as a spouse to a president or vice president. Harris is Baptist.

And everyone from political strategists to racial justice activists are waiting to see whether those firsts will be mere symbolic wins or the beginning of a sea change on gender and race relations and the launch of an enduring Democratic coalition.

The symbolism alone is important. Strategists say Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party. They vote in large numbers, help staff its volunteer efforts and power its wins in key races, but they have not always been well-represented among its candidates or in its policy decisions.

In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” last month, Harris vowed that she would bring her diverse perspective to the Biden administration. “What I will do, and I promise you this — and this is what Joe wants me to do, this was part of our deal — I will always share with him my lived experience as it relates to any issue that we confront,” she said. “And I promised Joe that I will give him that perspective and always be honest with him.”

That experience includes being the daughter of an Indian immigrant and a Jamaican-born father. She was raised biracial and interfaith. She is a Christian, but also attended Hindu temples with her mother.

That side of Harris’s background could help galvanise Asian-American voters, the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the US and one both Democrats and Republicans have tried to woo. That experience also means being the first graduate of a historically Black college in such a high office. Harris attended Howard University in Washington and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation’s oldest Black sorority. Members have turned up at her events and been active donors, many giving $19.08 to note the year the group was founded.

Harris, 56, has not shied away from using her background as a touchstone for outreach. She attended virtual campaign events with South Asian celebrities such as actress Mindy Kaling, comedian Aasif Mandvi and former US attorney and Trump antagonist Preet Bharara.

And she had a starring role in Biden campaign ads targeting both Black and Asian-American voters, including one that featured words in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tamil, Hindi and Filipino.

Cheryl Hori, founder of Democratic consulting firm Pacific Campaign House, said, “This will be historic for Asian-Americans, full stop.”

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