“Ready to Serve” were the first words tweeted by the newly sworn-in Vice President Kamala Devi Harris, the first woman, the first Indian-American to become the second most powerful person in the United States, and by some accounts, in the world.
Emotional responses began popping up on social media when Harris raised her hand to repeat the pledge recited by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Jan. 20, 2021, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, to mark what is being characterized as a historic victory by women around the country, especially Black women (Harris is part Black as her father is originally from Jamaica).
But for Indian-Americans it is by far the greatest achievement on the national stage, outstripping earlier firsts but following in their trajectory, particularly, the rise of United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley to a cabinet-level position under former President Donald Trump. bestowed on ex-United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.
News India Times spoke to individuals on both sides of the aisle.
“Am crying …” tweeted Sree Sreenivasan, visiting professor at Stony Brook University, former digital officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, City of New York, and Columbia University, and founder of the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA).
“Streaming down the face,” responded Khyati Joshi on Twitter, responding to Sreenivasan.
“My parents and my wife’s (parents) are all applauding from where they are in swaragam,” tweeted Shekar Narasimhan, a businessman and founder of AAPI Victory Fund, a political action committee that played an important role in mobilizing the Indian-American and Asian-American vote.
“My city Madras is represented big time,” tweeted Chandramo Metta, adding, “So happy for th3 Gopalans of Basant Nagar,”a reference to Harris’ relatives who also hail from Chennai.
“I was thrilled to witness the inauguration of not only the first female Vice President, but also the first woman of color, and the first South Asian American VP in our nation’s history,” New Jersey State Sen. Vin Gopal told News India Times.
“Although this moment was long overdue, I am overjoyed that Kamala Harris has taken such a critical role in our government, and I have full confidence she will go above and beyond to represent our country in the best possible way,” Gopal added, noting that Harris “is also advocating for many of the underserved communities within our country in attempts to combat racial injustice and serve as a representative for individuals of color.”
Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold, said he and his organization were ready to help the new team in the White House.
“I want to welcome President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on behalf of Indian-Americans, as well as Indians in India, and personally from Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold. I am sure their team will be pro-India and boost the relations on all fronts,” Dr. Parikh said.
Calling it a “new era” Dr. Parikh added, “I am sure President Biden and Vice President Harris will unite the whole country and bring it to the next level; that they will aggressively tackle and end the pandemic, improve the economy and revive the businesses which suffered so much so that they can thrive again.”
Chairman of the Federation of Indian Associations- NYNJCT, Ankur Vaidya said Kamala Harris’ rise to the Vice Presidency was “an inspiration to single mothers who keep it together and raise daughters, two daughters in this case, who value the importance of education.”
“It is a matter of pride for Indian-Americans as long as there is a clear distinction that she is just as proud to be Indian-American as she is to be Black-American,” Vaidya said.
The ‘X’ Factor
“It has been a very good day,” said Shekar Narasimhan of AAPI Victory Fund, regarding Harris’ swearing in and Inauguration Day.
Narasimhan who has been closely involved with mobilizing the Asian American vote not just for the general election of November, but also in Georgia where two Democratic Senators got elected, said Harris’ candidacy significantly impacted the mobilization of the Indian-American community during this election cycle. However, Trump policies already impacted Indians negatively such as immigration, H-1B, rising hate crimes against the community, the Public Charge Rule, etc., had already set many against the former President, Narasimhan said.
While factors such as organizational infrastructure, data analytics, and the 5,000 or so volunteers that were commandeered for the elections by groups such as ‘They See Blue’ a play on words, SAAV Texas, and Samosa in Michigan, Harris was the nail that hammered the gains together, according to Narasimhan.
It all came together in August when Joe Biden went so far as to re-record his speech for India’s Independence Day event organized by South Asians for Biden, where he introduced his Indian-American running mate.
“We put that speech on our platform and more than 15,000 people watched it!” Narasimhan said. “And then Kamala Harris gave her acceptance speech where she used the word ‘Chitti’ (Tamil for ‘aunty’) … That was the ‘X’ Factor,” he said.
“All the rest, the sophistication of our data analytics, the energy of our volunteers would have been enough, but when she came and said she could represent us – she was effective in further mobilizing the vote.”