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Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris has the distinction of many firsts in U.S. history and politics: She is the first female U.S. vice president, the first Black vice president, and the first Asian American vice president. Her career leading up to vice president involved several firsts as well, including being the first South Asian-American attorney general in the nation. As a senator, she was the first Indian-American to serve as a U.S. senator and the first African-American woman to represent California in the Senate.

Youth and Early Career

Kamala Devi Harris was born on October 20, 1964 in Oakland, California, to Donald Harris and Shyamala Gopalan Harris. Both of her parents were immigrants: Donald Harris came from Jamaica and Shyamala from India. Kamala says that when she was young, her parents were active in the civil rights movement and they surrounded her with people involved in community organizing.

“My mother, Shyamala, raised my sister, Maya, and me to believe that it was up to us and every generation of Americans to keep on marching, Harris said during her first campaign appearance as the nominee for vice president in 2020. "She’d tell us ‘Don’t sit around and complain about things; do something.’”

Her parents divorced when she was 7 years old and she eventually moved to Canada with her mother. She graduated from Quebec’s Westmount High School in 1981 and earned a degree in political science and economics from Howard University in 1986. She obtained her J.D. from Hastings College of the Law in 1989 and later passed the California bar exam.

Career

Kamala started off her career in 1990 as a prosecutor in California’s Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. She then moved to the Francisco District Attorney’s Office, serving first as a managing attorney and then as chief of the Division on Children and Families. In 2003, Kamala was elected District Attorney of San Francisco. She was elected Attorney General for California in 2010, which gave her the responsibility of managing the largest state justice department in the U.S. In that role, she established the state’s first Bureau of Children’s Justice.

“I’m a career prosecutor,” Harris told The New York Times in 2015. “I have been trained, and my experience over decades, is to make decisions after a review of the evidence and the facts. And not to jump up with grand gestures before I’ve done that. Some might interpret that as being cautious. I would tell you that’s just responsible.”

Harris was a California state senator from 2017-2021. She ran for president in 2019 but dropped out, and later was selected as a running mate by Joe Biden. She was sworn in as Vice President of the United States on January 20, 2021.

Personal Life

Harris met Doug Emhoff on a blind date and they were married one year later in 2014. She and Emhoff have a blended family that includes Emhoff’s children, Ella and Cole, with his previous wife. Ella and Cole call Harris “Momala.”

Harris has authored and co-authored several books, including Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor's Plan to Make Us Safer, Superheroes Are Everywhere, and her autobiography, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.

Sources and Further Reading

Harris, Kamala. (2019) The Truths We Hold: An American Journey. New York: Penguin Random House.

C-SPAN. (2020, August 12). Complete remarks from Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris. YouTube. www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RujfQsSx4U

Nagourney, Adam. (27 March, 2015). Kamala Harris, California’s Attorney General, Leaps to Forefront of Senate Race. New York: The New York Times. www.nytimes.com/2015/03/28/us/politics/kamala-harris-californias-attorney-general-leaps-to-forefront-of-race-for-barbara-boxers-senate-seat.html

Harris, Kamala and Hamilton, Joan O'C. (2008). Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor's Plan to Make Us Safer. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Harris, Kamala. (2019). Superheroes Are Everywhere. New York: Philomel Books.

Harris, Kamala. (2019) The Truths We Hold: An American Journey. New York: Penguin Random House.

White House Administration. Kamala Harris. www.whitehouse.gov/administration/vice-president-harris

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