Asian American celebrities, lawmakers and organizers gathered virtually Tuesday night at the AAPI Inaugural Ball to celebrate the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
Among the dozens of speakers were Harris herself and members of her family. The soon-to-be vice president spoke with pride about her Indian heritage to the thousands of viewers watching and commenting on the livestream.
“My mother Shyamala Gopalan arrived in the United States from India,” Harris said. “She raised my sister Maya and me to know that though we may be the first, we should not be the last. And I have carried that lesson with me throughout my career.”
Hosts Chloe Bennet and Brad Jenkins of RUN AAPI raised champagne glasses to a new day, and the dozens of speakers who followed spoke to the hope the new administration, particularly Harris, gives them and their families.
Opening the ceremony was comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani, who said Harris’ rise to the second highest political seat in the country makes himself and his Pakistani immigrant parents feel as though they belong in the U.S. once again.
Nanjiani moved to the U.S. for college when he was 18, and his parents joined him 10 years later. The family “immediately felt very welcome in America” and “fell in love” with the country, he said. But the Trump administration stripped away those feelings, he said. Now, seeing a South Asian woman in the White House makes him proud to be here.
“The last few years, I’ve seen [my mom] become disillusioned with America,” Nanjiani said. “She says things like ‘They don’t want us here, where are we going to go?’ … I’ll tell you, this election has restored my mom’s faith in America. She feels proud to call America home again.”
Actor John Cho, who also spoke during the stream, shared a similar sentiment, acknowledging his parents' sacrifice immigrating to the U.S. and his desire to keep alive the better life that they came here for.
“I never thought that those ideals that drew our family across an ocean needed protection,” Cho said. “That we as citizens and our leaders needed to work to keep those ideals real and alive.”
The hourlong event was hosted by IMPACT and RUN AAPI, two organizations dedicated to increasing AAPI participation in politics, and streamed on Biden’s Inauguration YouTube channel.
The speakers delivered a unified message — a hard moment in history is over, but the work is only just beginning.
Harris’ niece, Meena, was one of the last to speak.
“Auntie, we are so proud to celebrate what you already accomplished,” she said. “There is no one that I trust more to do this historic work than Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.”