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Kamala Harris VP pick gets warm reaction in India

The California senator's mother was an immigrant from India.
Image: Kamala Harris with her mother, Shyamala, at a Chinese New Year parade in 2007.
Kamala Harris with her mother, Shyamala, at a Chinese New Year parade in 2007.Kamala Harris campaign via AP

LONDON — Joe Biden's decision to choose Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., as his running mate created a stir on Wednesday in countries around the world, particularly in India where Harris has family roots.

Harris, 55, has already made history as the first woman of color to be chosen as a major party's vice-presidential candidate. If elected, she would become the nation's first female, first Black and first Asian American vice president.

"I was extremely happy ... to see a woman of color rise up the political ladder of arguably the world's most powerful country, through sheer merit and determination," Mugdha Pande, 28, a lawyer from New Delhi told NBC News. "Now that Ms. Harris has got the VP ticket, her popularity will only grow in India."

Although Pande feels a sense of pride over Harris' achievements, she said it was important to remember that Harris was American and that many in India — a country of about 1.3 billion — may not have been aware of her until Tuesday's announcement propelled her to global fame.

Harris' mother Shyamala Gopalan was born in Chennai, a coastal city in southeast India, and graduated from the University of Delhi.

Image: Shyamala Gopalan Harris, 25, holds her baby, Kamala.
Shyamala Gopalan Harris, 25, holds her baby, Kamala.Kamala Harris campaign via AP

She emigrated to the United States to obtain her PhD in nutrition and endocrinology from the University of California, Berkeley and went on to become a cancer researcher there. She later worked at the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin.

O. Panneerselvam, the deputy chief minister of Tamil Nadu, the region where Harris' mother was born, said her selection was a "moment of pride" for Indians, especially those from Tamil Nadu.

Indian lawmaker Shashi Tharoor said the pick was "thrilling."

"Indian Americans and expatriate desis everywhere buzzing in celebration of Joe Biden's pick of Kamala Harris as his VP candidate," wrote Tharoor online, teasing that others may now be feeling the bar of expectation from their elders rise.

Following Biden's announcement on Tuesday, #DesiProud began trending on social media — referring to people or diaspora from the Indian subcontinent — and was also shared by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the first South Asian American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives who grew up in India.

Harris' uncle Gopalan Balachandran, who also studied in the U.S., said he thought his niece, whose name means lotus in Sanskrit, would "do her best" to strengthen the U.S.-India relationship.

"She has a good head on her shoulders," Balachandran told The Hindu, an Indian newspaper, on Wednesday.

Image: San Francisco's new district attorney, Kamala Harris, right, receives the oath of office
Kamala Harris, right, receives the oath of office from California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George, left, during an inauguration ceremony in San Francisco in 2004. In the center is Harris' mother, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan.George Nikitin / AP file

Indian billionaire Anand Mahindra also welcomed Harris' selection while noting her diverse heritage.

"There will be an explosion of celebrations by Indian communities claiming her as 'our own,''" he wrote on Twitter. "But we should recognize that Kamala Harris isn't just of Indian descent; she epitomizes what the world should be — borderless and interracial."

Harris' father Donald Harris, a prominent economist at Stanford University, is originally from Jamaica. He wrote in a 2018 personal essay for Jamaica Global that from an early age he had tried to convey a sense of his homeland "in very concrete terms, through frequent visits to Jamaica" with his two daughters. "Engaging life there in all its richness and complexity," he wrote.

She has said that though her parents divorced when she was young, her mother raised her and her sister to be "proud black women."

"My mother understood very well that she was raising two black daughters," Harris wrote in her 2019 memoir, "The Truths We Hold." "She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as black girls, and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud black women."

Her mother died of cancer in 2009.

"You can't know who Kamala Harris is without knowing who our mother was," her sister Maya Harris tweeted on Tuesday. "She and the ancestors are smiling today."

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With the U.S. in the midst of a reckoning over its history of racial injustice, identity and race are expected to be at the forefront of the election.

Harris joined demonstrations this summer in the wake of George Floyd's death, which sparked global protests from London to Bangkok.

Biden's decision on Tuesday is a culmination of a career of firsts, fights and compromises for the California senator, a pragmatic pathbreaker who went from local prosecutor to state attorney general to U.S senator to the presidential ticket.

"Whatever one may say about America...this is what makes it an incredible country," said Nidhi Razdan, an Indian journalist. "The daughter of immigrant parents could make it to the highest office."

"Kamala Harris's story is the story of a changing, inclusive America," said Neil Makhija, executive director of IMPACT, an Indian-American advocacy group. "At a time of rapid change, she ties all our national threads together."

Reuters contributed to this report.