Vice President Kamala Harris, 57, made history as the first female Vice President of the United States, when she and President Joe Biden were elected in November 2020. While the vice president will surely be a trailblazer for years to come, she did have some impressive footsteps to follow in with her influential mom and dad. The vice president was born to Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris in October 1964. The two immigrants were clearly very influential on their daughter, and their impact has definitely stayed with the vice president throughout her political career. Find out more about Kamala Harris’ parents here.
The vice president’s dad Donald, 83, was born in Jamaica in August 1938. While his daughter has made history as the vice president, he’s also had his own fair share of accomplishments in his life. He moved to the U.S. to study economics at the University of California Berkley, and after graduation, he taught at the University of Wisconsin, before becoming a tenured economics professor at Stanford University, per his bio on the university’s website. He was the first Black professor to be tenured in the department. During his academic career, he’s also a consultant to the Jamaican government. In 1978, he published the academic work Capital Accumulation and Income Distribution through Stanford’s press.
During his time at UC Berkley, Donald met Shyamala, while fighting for civil rights, via The New York Times. Besides Kamala, the pair also had another daughter Maya, 55, who became a lawyer and political commentator. Maya’s also supported her sister on the campaign trail on a number of occasions. Donald and Shyamala divorced when Kamala and her sister were still children, and it caused a major rift in the family.
Despite him expressing pride in his daughter on a since-deleted Jamaican website, Donald has had some public disputes with his daughter prior to her becoming vice president. Kamala joked about her Jamaican heritage when asked if she’d ever smoked marijuana during a 2019 interview, and her dad publicly expressed disappointment for the quip. “My dear departed grandmothers (whose extraordinary legacy I described in a recent essay on this website), as well as my deceased parents, must be turning in their grave right now to see their family’s name, reputation and proud Jamaican identity being connected, in any way, jokingly or not with the fraudulent stereotype of a pot-smoking joy seeker and in the pursuit of identity politics,” he wrote on the now-defunct Jamaica Global Online, per Politico. “Speaking for myself and my immediate Jamaican family, we wish to categorically dissociate ourselves from this travesty.”
Like her father, Kamala’s late mother Shyamala Gopalan was an immigrant, but she moved to the U.S. from India at age 19 to study science at UC Berkley, where she eventually received a PhD in endocrinology and nutrition, via the BBC. Shyamala has published numerous academic works, including research on glands and how hormones affect breast cancer, via The New York Times. The vice president’s mother sadly died after a battle with colon cancer in October 2009 at age 70.
While her father undoubtedly had an incredible academic career, the couple’s divorce put strain on their daughters’ relationship with their dad, including Kamala being worried about inviting both parents to her high school graduation, as she said in her 2018 memoir. Despite Maya and Kamala spending summers with their dad, Kamala’s niece Meena said that Shyamala was the primary parent to both girls. “He was not around after the divorce. Their experience and relationship with blackness is through being raised in these communities in Berkeley and Oakland, and not through the lens of being Caribbean,” she told The New Yorker in 2019.
Kamala has since paid much tribute to her mom since being elected as vice president. “To the woman most responsible for my presence here today, my mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who is always in our hearts,” she said in a video tweeted out on Inauguration day. “When she came here from India at the age of 19, she maybe didn’t quite imagine this moment, but she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible.”