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In US vice-presidential acceptance speech, Kamala Harris refers to chithis, evokes lessons from Indian mother and upbringing

Joe Biden’s pick for running mate in American presidential elections makes history as the first Black woman, also of Indian American lineage, to accept a spot on a major party’s — Democrat — ticket.

August 20, 2020 / 11:37 AM IST

California Senator Kamala Harris, on August 19, made a brief reference to India in her historic address while accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for vice president.

Harris is the first woman of South Asian descent to be on a major party’s presidential ticket. Her family comprises her husband, Doug Emhoff, children, sister, nieces, godchildren, uncles, aunts and ‘chithis’, she said. ‘Chithis translates to ‘aunties’ in Tamil.

“Family is my husband Doug, who I met on a blind date set up by my best friend. Family is our beautiful children, Cole and Ella, who as you just heard, call me Momala. Family is my sister. Family is my best friend, my nieces and my godchildren. Family is my uncles, my aunts and my chithis,” Harris said on day three of the Democratic National Convention being held virtually amid the pandemic.

Harris’ mother Shyamala Gopalan was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Gopalan was a widely respected breast cancer researcher who immigrated to the United States from India in the 1960s.

Read more: Who is Kamala Harris? All about Biden's vice-presidential running mate

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Talking about her mother who hailed from India, Harris said, “My mother taught me that service to others gives life purpose and meaning. And oh, how I wish she were here tonight but I know she’s looking down on me from above. I keep thinking about that 25-year-old Indian woman — all of five feet tall — who gave birth to me at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, California.”

“My mother instilled in my sister, Maya, and me the values that would chart the course of our lives. She raised us to be proud, strong Black women. And she raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage,” Harris added.

The Tamil reference did not go unnoticed. Several people, including celebrities, shared their “thrill” on social media.

Harris also spoke of her Jamaican immigrant father and getting a "stroller's eye view" of the civil rights movement as her parents protested in the streets in the 1960s

Democrats are hoping that Harris can galvanize their party’s faithful -- who are divided between progressive and moderate wings -- and win over swing voters still deciding between Joe Biden and incumbent US President Donald Trump.
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