Madam Vice President
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris makes history, as a number of South Asian Americans join the Biden-Harris administration.
Good morning —
The second-highest ranking public official of the most powerful country on the planet is now Vice President Kamala Devi Harris, who happens to be a woman and identifies as Black and Indian American.
I was thinking a lot about her late mother Shyamala Gopalan, who, like many immigrants, moved to the United States at a young age to achieve their dreams and build a better life. History was made this week as her California-born daughter became VP.
Harris’ hometown of Oakland was really thrilled — and so was the Indian village of Thulasendrapuram, where her maternal grandfather was reportedly from. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented on Harris breaking the glass ceiling of the White House:
In November, I took off my reporter hat and wore a new op-ed hat to write an opinion piece for the San Francisco Chronicle about what Harris’ win meant to me — and many other Indian Americans. It’s also another urgent reminder to tackle issues of anti-Blackness in South Asian communities, as we learn to understand all parts of Harris’ identity.
Anyway, more Brown highlights in the new administration below. There are increasingly more South Asian Americans in public service — and it’s likely to only grow.
Thanks for joining the conversation,
Vignesh Ramachandran (@VigneshR)
Co-founder of Red, White and Brown Media
More on Kamala Harris
The Tie-Breaking Vote
A lot has been said about Harris’ VP power as the tie-breaker for the 50-50 party split in the Senate. But as Bloomberg importantly notes, a supermajority may be needed for major legislation. But “a simple majority is enough to advance certain annual budget and tax-related measures via a process known as reconciliation,” Bloomberg reports.
Harris’ Uncles and Aunts
Americans were quite amused with the frankness of Indian uncles when they met Harris’ maternal uncle Gopalan Balachandran last fall through TV interviews. Now, Mr. Balachandran is back sharing his thoughts on the inauguration in this CNN report. And The Guardian reports that he plans to come congratulate Harris in the U.S., once he can get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Harris’ Canadian aunt and uncle — Chinni and Shankar Subash — also shared some interesting details as revealed in a CBC News story. When Harris famously mentioned her chittis in her DNC speech last year, Chinni says she was very touched: "I mean, with everything that she has to take care of these days ... I was very touched and very honored that she acknowledged us."
“I Knew Her When”
Ever wonder if that person you met that one time might become a leader of the free world someday? Well, digital pioneer Sree Sreenivasan saw Harris speak in 2009 when she was District Attorney of San Francisco. “I shot this video of someone who I knew was going places. But this far, this soon, I couldn’t have predicted it,” Sreenivasan said on Twitter. A fun time capsule for the archives…
The Kamala Song
Indian rapper Mvsalv (pronounced like “masala”) shared a new original song with Red, White and Brown called “Kamala” as a tribute to the vice president. Check it out on Spotify. Bangalore-born Mvsalv was raised in Detroit and is currently in Berlin. “I now see my skin color in what was once an unthinkable place, and so I wrote ‘Kamala’ as a thank you for inspiring not only myself but our whole community,” Mvsalv told us.
We’re used to hearing about the Indian Americans in the Bay Area and New York all the time. But a growing South Asian community in the Rocky Mountain West is getting more and more politically active, as CBS Denver’s Shawn Chitnis reports. Coloradans of South Asian decent make up less than 1 percent of the state’s population, but the mighty community reacted with a lot of political reflection after the November election — as I reported for Colorado Public Radio then.
Hopefully — someday — this will feel quaint when the American government more accurately represents the diversity of its people. But for now, NBC News’ Deepa Shivaram noted this on Inauguration Day:
Brown in the White House
A key person behind Biden’s inaugural speech on Wednesday? Happens to be Brown. Biden’s director of speechwriting is Indian American Vinay Reddy, who grew up in Ohio. Reddy was formerly Biden’s chief speechwriter during Biden’s second term as VP.
There are a lot of other South Asian American folks in the Biden-Harris administration. Here’s a list of additional names (alphabetical by last name), though there may be some left out from here (email us!):
Expect more South Asian Americans to get involved in politics, researchers say. In a piece for The Washington Post, Sara Sadhwani and Maneesh Arora found in their study:
“66% said they would feel better represented if more Indian Americans were elected to office at the local, state and federal levels.”
We’ve heard a lot about the South Asians for Biden grassroots group which helped elect the Biden-Harris ticket. Now, the group is celebrating with a virtual gala today. It’ll feature quite the star-studded Brown lineup including, DJ Rekha, Manish Dayal, Sakina Jaffrey, Kal Penn and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington).
WhatsApp Forward of the Week
About 2,000 square feet of kolam designs were put together in a collaborative public art project to honor Biden and Harris. While it was supposed to be displayed at the U.S. Capitol before the inauguration, it was postponed for security issues and instead shown virtually. Read more from Mythili Sampathkumar reporting for NBC News.
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Red, White and Brown first launched on Medium back in 2016 and was re-focused in 2018 with renewed vigor to spark conversations about culture and politics in the United States through the lens of South Asian American race and identity. Please tell your friends and family to subscribe to this newsletter and follow the latest posts on Medium.