Kamala Harris is Joe Biden's pick for his vice president and running mate in the 2020 presidential election. And last month, she took the virtual stage at the Democratic National Convention to officially accept the nomination.
It's probably not the first time you've heard her name. She's held multiple public offices in California and now represents the state as a U.S. senator. Naturally, the American public wants to know more about her personal life. Well, for starters, she's married to attorney Douglas Emhoff, and is "Momala" to his two kids, Cole and Ella, from a previous marriage.
But wait, what about her own mom and dad? Here’s everything you need to know about the Kamala's parents, Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris:
Kamala Harris' parents met in college.
They both attended University of California Berkeley for graduate school, where they ended up meeting, according to The Mercury News. After graduating from India’s University of Delhi at age 19, Shyamala moved to Berkeley to get her doctorate in nutrition and endocrinology. Donald graduated from Jamaica’s University College of the West Indies before studying at Berkeley.
The future couple met after joining a group of students who met on Sundays to talk about Black writers who were overlooked by the school’s curriculum and to debate about politics, decolonization, and activism, The Mercury News reported. They got married while they were still in school.
Watch this video to learn more about Kamala Harris’ grandparents, too:
Kamala's mom was the daughter of an Indian diplomat and was born in India.
Shyamala was a Tamil Indian-American born in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu.
Kamala remembers visiting her grandparents, a diplomat and a women's rights activist, in India, and shared about it on Instagram.
She wrote in the caption: "When I was a young girl visiting my grandparents in India, I’d join my grandfather and his buddies on their morning walk along the beach as they would talk about the importance of fighting for democracy and civil rights. Those walks made me who I am today."
And her dad was born in Jamaica.
Donald was born in Jamaica in 1938. He immigrated to the United States to pursue his doctorate degree from the University of California Berkeley, where he met Shyamala. He eventually became a naturalized United States citizen, per his Stanford bio.
He taught at Stanford University from 1972 until 1998, when he took early retirement. He used his time to work on "developing public policies to promote economic growth and advance social equity."
Kamala also visited Jamaica with her family as a child.
Donald took his children on frequent visits to his home country to teach them about their heritage, per an essay he wrote for Jamaica Global Online. "One of the most vivid and fondest memories I have of that early period with my children is of the visit we made in 1970 to Orange Hill," Donald wrote. "We trudged through the cow dung and rusted iron gates, up-hill and down-hill, along narrow unkempt paths, to the very end of the family property, all in my eagerness to show to the girls the terrain over which I had wandered daily for hours as a boy."
Kamala's parents were both huge civil rights activists.
Speaking to a virtual crowd at the 2020 Democratic National Convention in August, Kamala said that her parents "fell in love in that most American way—while marching together for justice in the civil rights movement of the 1960s," according to PEOPLE.
"My parents would bring me to protests—strapped tightly in my stroller," she added. Shyamala even met Martin Luther King Jr. when he spoke at Berkeley in 1967.
Her grandparents also held progressive ideals.
Not only were Kamala’s parents involved in the civil rights movement and advocated for social progress, but her grandparents held similar views. She opened up about their passion for access to birth control in an Instagram post shared this September.
"My grandparents were phenomenal. My grandfather fought for and was a defender of the freedom of India, while my grandmother traveled across India—bullhorn in hand—to talk to women about accessing birth control. Their passion and commitment to improving our future led me to where I am today," Kamala wrote.
They divorced when Kamala was a child.
Shyamala and Donald separated when Kamala was just five, according to the BBC. The reason, per Kamala’s book, The Truths We Hold: Donald took a professorship position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Shyamala filed for divorce when Kamala was 7 and won custody of Kamala and her sister, Maya, two years later. "They didn’t fight about money. The only thing they fought about was who got the books," Kamala wrote in her memoir.
In her memoir, the senator also wrote that her parents struggled with "incompatibility" and that she and her sister spent most of their time with their mother. She said that they would see their dad Donald "on weekends and spend summers with him in Palo Alto."
"[H]ad they been a little older, a little more emotionally mature, maybe the marriage could have survived. But they were so young. My father was my mother’s first boyfriend," Kamala also revealed in her memoir, according to PEOPLE.
Kamala's mom raised her to be a "strong, Black woman."
Kamala shared a tribute to her mother for Black History Month: "My mother was very intentional about raising my sister, Maya, and me as strong, Black women. She coupled her teachings of civic duty and fearlessness with actions, which included taking us on Thursday nights to Rainbow Sign, a Black cultural center near our home."
She continued: "This #BlackHistoryMonth, I want to lift up my mother and the community at Rainbow Sign who taught us anything was possible, unburdened by what has been."
Kamala misses her mom a lot.
In August, she paid tribute to Shymala in an Instagram post. "My mother always use to say, 'Don’t just sit around and complain about things. Do something.' I dearly wish she were here with us this week," Kamala wrote in caption.
Shyamala and Donald both had impressive careers.
Kamala’s mom was a leading breast cancer researcher who worked at UC Berkeley, the University of Illinois, and the University of Wisconsin, and was eventually part of the Special Commission on Breast Cancer, according to her obituary. The obituary also points out that Shyamala "made substantial contributions to the field of hormones and breast cancer, publishing her research in countless journals and receiving numerous honors. Her discovery sparked a plethora of advancements regarding the role of progesterone and its cellular receptor in breast biology and cancer."
Donald is a prominent economist who worked at UC Berkeley, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Stanford University, according to his Stanford bio. His research has focused on "exploring the analytical conception of the process of capital accumulation and its implications for a theory of growth of the economy, with the aim of providing thereby an explanation of the intrinsic character of growth as a process of uneven development," the bio says.
Donald also served as economic consultant to the Government of Jamaica and as economic adviser to several prime ministers.
Kamala was particularly close to her mom.
Kamala has spoken about her relationship with her mother a lot in public, praising her for being a strong woman. "I’m the daughter of a mother who broke down all kinds of barriers," Kamala wrote on Instagram in May. "Shyamala Harris was no more than five feet tall, but if you ever met her you would think she was seven feet tall. She had such spirit and tenacity and I’m thankful every day to have been raised by her."
Shyamala died from colon cancer on February 11, 2009.
"It was one of the worst days of my life," Kamala wrote in a New York Times opinion piece reflecting on the day in 2008, when her mom told her she was diagnosed with colon cancer. "Are my daughters going to be O.K.?" was one of the last questions Shyamala asked the hospice nurse. Kamala says, "she was focused on being our mother until the very end."
She added: "And though I miss her every day, I carry her with me wherever I go. I think of the battles she fought, the values she taught me, her commitment to improve health care for us all. There is no title or honor on earth I’ll treasure more than to say I am Shyamala Gopalan Harris’s daughter."
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