By now, you probably know that Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s history-making vice presidential pick, has Jamaican and Indian roots.
Her father Donald Harris immigrated to the United States from Jamaica in 1961 to attend the University of California – Berkeley to work on his PhD in economics. Her mother Shyamala Gopalan immigrated from India in 1960, also to attend Berkeley, where she worked on her doctorate in biochemistry and endocrinology. They were both involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
Her parents divorced when Harris was 7 years old, but her father remained in her life even though Kamala’s mother was given full custody of her and her sister during the divorce. Her father made sure they celebrated their Jamaican heritage.
Kamala’s mother went on to receive her PhD and began a career in cancer research. As a woman and as a Brown person in the science field in the ’60s, she was discriminated against. She sued Berkeley after being passed over for a promotion she had been promised when a man was hired over her and three other female finalists. After suing, Gopalan was forced out of Berkeley, prompting her move to Canada when Kamala was just an adolescent.
One of the ladies who was also passed over was eventually put in charge of the biology division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and immediately hired Gopalan, who worked at the lab almost until her death of cancer in 2009.
Kamala’s father, Donald Harris, became a professor at Stanford University, where he taught economics classes. According to his bio on Stanford’s website, his career took him across the globe and he has served as an economic consultant to the government of Jamaica. He retired from Stanford in 1998.
During an appearance on the radio show “The Breakfast Club,” Kamala was asked whether she supported or opposed the legalization of marijuana, she jokingly replied, “Half my family is from Jamaica. Are you kidding me?”
Her father was far from amused. In a statement to Jamaica Global Online, Donald wrote that “My dear departed grandmothers, 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.”
Kamala’s younger sister is a lawyer, civil rights activist, and author. The 53-year-old Maya has been at Harris’ side throughout her political journey. Maya has been married for over two decades to Tony West, former Associate Attorney General of the U.S. Senate and current Chief Legal Officer of Uber. She has a daughter, Meena, and two grandchildren.
Maya Harris boasts an impressive resumé. She was a senior advisor for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. She’s been a leader for the American Civil Liberties Union, a vice president at the Ford Foundation, and became one of the youngest law school deans in the U.S. at Lincoln Law School of San Jose.
Kamala met her husband Douglas Emhoff on a blind date, and they married in 2014 at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. The 55-year-old is an entertainment lawyer and partner at the DLA Piper law firm where he represents clients in “complex business, real estate and intellectual property litigation disputes,” according to his company bio. Emhoff has been supportive of his wife throughout her political career and bid for the White House.
If Biden wins the election, Emhoff will be the nation’s first second gentleman, which Biden addressed during his first appearance with his VP pick on Aug. 12. “Doug, you’re going to have to learn what it means to be a barrier-breaker yourself in this job you’re about to take on,” Biden said during his speech in Delaware.
Emhoff has two children, Cole and Ella, named after jazz legends John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald, from a previous relationship with Kerstin Emhoff, whom Harris calls a “dear friend.” The children call the vice presidential candidate “Momala,” and Harris said they are her “endless source of love and pure joy.”
“They are brilliant, talented, funny kids who have grown to be remarkable adults,” Harris said in an interview with Elle Magazine. “I was already hooked on Doug, but I believe it was Cole and Ella who reeled me in.”
Cole is a graduate of Colorado College, and according to his LinkedIn profile, he is an executive assistant at Plan B. His sister Ella is a student at Parsons School of Design and she is an avid knitter, according to her Instagram account.