Indian American women expressed jubilation and tears of joy Aug. 11 as Democratic presidential contender picked Kamala Harris as his running mate, keeping his promise to add a woman of color to his ticket.
“This is a win for women all over the globe. I’m on Cloud Nine,” Indian American venture capitalist Shelly Kapoor Collins, a long-time supporter and friend of Harris, told India-West.
“Biden is a wise man. He doesn’t hold grudges,” she said, noting that — despite their discord during the Democratic debates last year, when Harris herself was a presidential contender — “he still chose her.”
Harris, who currently serves as the junior senator from California, is the daughter of Indian American cancer researcher Shyamala Gopalan and Stanford economics professor Donald Harris, who is originally from Jamaica.
“I need someone working alongside me who is smart, tough, and ready to lead. Kamala is that person,” said Biden in a statement released Aug. 11 afternoon, ending months of suspense and speculation.
“I need someone who understands the pain that so many people in our nation are suffering. Whether they’ve lost their job, their business, a loved one to this virus,” said Biden, referencing the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than 160,000 lives in the U.S., bringing with it a ruinous impact on the U.S. economy which dealt its harshest blows to Main Street, mom and pop American businesses. He characterized Harris as one of “the toughest and most effective senators.”
“She is a beacon of hope and she is our future,” said Collins, who served as the founding member of Harris’s 2019 presidential bid. “Now the work begins. We cannot sit back and dissolve into complacency.”
Harini Krishnan, co-chair of the California arm of South Asians for Biden, who served as the lead volunteer coordinator for Harris’s presidential bid, told India-West she had been unable to sleep since Aug. 1, when the Democratic presidential contender was scheduled to announce his running mate. Through tears of joy, she said: “This is an absolutely historic moment around the world. Kamala is going to energize the ticket. She will bring adrenaline to the campaign.”
The pandemic has relegated Biden largely to campaigning from his home, via virtual events and rope lines.
Krishnan said she got a hint of what was about to happen a day earlier, on a campaign organizing call. Anatole Jenkins, who had formerly served as Harris’s national organizing director, and now serves in the same capacity with the Biden campaign, led the call. “We thought, ‘this could be happening.’”
“Ultimately, Joe went with someone he knows and respects,” said Krishnan.
Krishnan’s daughter, Janani Krishnan Jha, a fresh Harvard graduate who serves as a fellow with the Indian American Impact Fund, told India-West that her first thought was one of disbelief. “I never anticipated that someone who looked like me could be on the presidential ticket.”
Indian Americans, and Asian Americans at large, are the fastest-growing electorate in the nation. In 2018, Asian Americans, who overwhelmingly vote Democrat, were the margin of victory in several down-ballot races. In 2016, 85 percent of Indian Americans voted for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, according to AAPI Data.
Krishnan-Jha noted the unprecedented number of Indian Americans running for local, state, and national office. “We are ushering in a new era of progress and Indian Americans are at the front of this wave of politics."
Sangeeta Ramakrishnan, a core volunteer for the South Asian American organization They See Blue, told India-West: “I was super excited at all levels. This is a historic choice and such a stellar pick.”
“Biden has shown that he is not threatened by a strong woman like Kamala,” she said, noting that she saw Harris’s confidence and competence come through during several Senate confirmation hearings, in which the senator exhaustively grilled President Donald Trump’s nominees. “She brought her prosecutorial background to the hearings,” said Ramakrishnan, adding it was unusual to see strong men becoming intimidated by a woman’s questioning.
Ramakrishnan noted that Indian Americans have historically had low voter turnouts. “I hope our community shows their support for this ticket,” she said, adding that Biden’s choice should help the campaign’s engagement with women.
“It is inspiring for me to see a woman of color and of Indian heritage step up to the national stage,” said Ramakrishnan. “I hope it inspires my daughter and her generation.”