Kamala Harris speaks about her mother’s values, Indian heritage in acceptance speech
“I accept your nomination for vice president of the United States of America.” The words, from a face that looked like India, resonated atop a virtual stage at the US Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Wilmington, Delaware. In her speech, Harris acknowledged that she was standing on the giant shoulders of a woman who “came here from India at age 19 to pursue her dream”. Proud, strong and warm in her delivery, the 55-year-old California senator became the first woman of color and the first person of South Asian descent on a major American political party ticket.
Harris’s speech set up the historic context of the moment, noting the 100th anniversary of the amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote in America and paying homage to “women like Mary Church Terrell and Mary McCleod Bethune, Fannie Lou Hamer, Diane Nash, Constance Baker Motley, and Shirley Chisholm”.
Harris was picking up the torch for these women, and she marked the moment well. “These women inspired us to pick up the torch and fight on,” she said. “Without fanfare or recognition, they organised, testified, rallied, marched, and fought—not just for their vote, but for a seat at the table. These women and the generations that followed worked to make democracy and opportunity real in the lives of all of us who followed.”
Americans stand on the shoulders of these unsung women, said Harris, adding, “There’s another woman, whose name isn’t known, whose story isn’t shared. Another woman whose shoulders I stand on. And that’s my mother—Shyamala Gopalan Harris. She came here from India at age 19 to pursue her dream of curing cancer.” Her mother, said Harris, was the most important person in her life.
“My mother instilled in my sister, Maya, and me the values that would chart the course of our lives,” said Harris. “She raised us to be proud, strong black women. And she raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage.” Much of the credit to the person she is today belongs to her mother, said the newly minted American vice-presidential candidate. “Even as she taught us to keep our family at the centre of our world, she also pushed us to see a world beyond ourselves. She taught us to be conscious and compassionate about the struggles of all people. To believe public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is a shared responsibility.”
Those values, said Harris led her to become a lawyer, a district attorney, attorney general, and a United States senator. “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 is 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."
“On that day, she probably could have never imagined that I would be standing before you now, speaking these words,” said Harris. “I accept your nomination for vice president of the United States of America.”
“I do so, committed to the values she taught me,” Harris said of her mother as she went on to make the case for electing Joe Biden as president of the United States. “To the word that teaches me to walk by faith, and not by sight. And to a vision passed on through generations of Americans—one that Joe Biden shares. A vision of our nation as a beloved community—where all are welcome, no matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we love. A country where we may not agree on every detail, but we are united by the fundamental belief that every human being is of infinite worth, deserving of compassion, dignity and respect.”
The former prosecutor drew contrast with Donald Trump’s America, a country she said feels distant. “Donald Trump's failure of leadership has cost lives and livelihoods.”
Harris kept the rest of the speech on the positive of what she and Biden hope to achieve. "Joe will bring us together to squarely face and dismantle racial injustice, furthering the work of generations. Joe and I believe that we can build that beloved community, one that is strong and decent, just and kind. One in which we all can see ourselves.” Even-keeled throughout her delivery, Harris closed the biggest speech of her life by harkening back again to the vision instilled by her mother: “That is the vision that our parents and grandparents fought for. The vision that made my own life possible. The vision that makes the American promise—for all its complexities and imperfections—a promise worth fighting for.”