Opinion: Who is Kamala Harris Running For?

 The presidential candidate has done little for South Asian Americans other than embrace her identity. Should we expect more? What should we expect?

Nawal Arjini

June 25, 2019

Opinion: Who is Kamala Harris Running For?

Kamala Harris announced her presidential run on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year and will appear in the first Democratic debate Thursday. Her first campaign stop was historically black Howard University, her alma mater. Born to an Indian Tamil mother, Shyamala Gopalan, and a Jamaican father, Donald Harris, Harris is running as a black woman. This makes sense: at 12.5%, black voters are a bigger bloc, with well-traveled inroads for Democratic candidates.

But Harris is also quietly courting South Asian voters. Though Asian Americans will comprise just 5% of the electorate by 2020 and only 1% are South Asians, they’re active voters. Wealthy Indians have hosted fundraisers and invited Harris to conferences; they have targets of raising $10 million for her campaign. Indian newspapers and Indian American blogs cover her and her sister’s careers obsessively. Harris wins them over with stories about identity and family. At least for me, it will be too little too late. 

I first heard about Harris in 2010, when then President Barack Obama and legendary activist Dolores Huerta endorsed her for Attorney General of California. She was an exciting candidate. She opposed anti-immigration laws and Prop 8, which threatened gay marriage rights, and would be California’s first female and first black attorney general. It wasn’t until 2016, during her Senate campaign, that I learned that she was also South Asian.