Even with the political rhetoric amidst the US elections result still in a hodgepodge, I am celebrating the fact that a woman of color and daughter of 20th-century immigrants (her mother was from India and her father from Jamaica) will be sworn-in as the Vice President of the most powerful country in the world. A feeling of joy, hope, and pride. It has taken centuries of struggle, pain, and hardship for many to get to this level of accomplishment.
Kamala Harris has spent her life breaking through glass ceilings and accumulating numerous “firsts” under her belt. She was the first female district attorney of San Francisco, the first female attorney general of California, the first Indian-American in the US Senate, the first Indian-American candidate of a major party to run for vice-president. Soon she will become the first black female vice-president. Harris has a Canadian connection, too. She lived in Montreal between the ages of 12 and 17 because her mother worked there. She attended a French-speaking primary school, Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, and then went to Westmount High School in Westmount, Quebec, graduating in 1981.
One of the main issues of being “first” is that you cannot avoid being confined to the sort of boxes that society defines you to become. An article in The Guardian (Nov. 8, 2020) quoted her saying to the Washington Post last year, “When I first ran for office that was one of the things that I struggled with, which is that you are forced through that process to define yourself in a way that you fit neatly into the compartment that other people have created. I am who I am … You might need to figure it out, but I’m fine with it.”
As an immigrant myself, these words resonate with me to the core. This is not about fitting into societal norms, per se. It is about the part of the story that every immigrant has struggled or continues to struggle to redefine themselves in a country or community where many expectations are fundamentally different from their own. Harris occupying the second-in-command position in a country as powerful as America should serve as an inspiration that regardless of your color, ethnicity, or gender, you can become a voice towards redefining societal views and beliefs to create better economic, social, and political opportunities for immigrants and those of immigrant descent, and contribute towards stronger interracial solidarity. So for me, Harris’ biracial heritage represents a history of Asians in North America that is beginning to get noticed and talked about. While the dominant narrative around Asians in North America has to do with their “abilities to approximate whiteness in regards to their education levels and incomes,” Harris offers a different slant: that is how she could use her activist background to be “a powerful symbol and voice for progressive Asian Americans” and tackle issues of systemic racism. My hope is that she will be a forefront advocate who could pass genuine reforms toward the healing of a deeply divided nation.
As she moves into one of the highest political offices, the question is not just one of being happy to see a woman of color in a leadership role. On a more practical note and as a Canadian, it is important for me to know what and how Harris will use her power to do, and to be willing to influence the US President on issues that are important to Canada – energy, climate change, trade relations (pipelines, steel, aluminum, agriculture, and forestry products), immigration policy, trade disputes with China, and most importantly how our countries work meaningfully together in the fight against Covid-19. While reality tells us that many Canadian interests do not necessarily align with America’s, a Biden-Harris administration holds the promise that Canada could be treated with more respect and care, even if some underlying disagreements remain.
The door that was opened for Harris is one she must be willing to keep open for others to see whether she could be the kind of empathetic leader we all hope for her to be. For me and many others, it is important that America lives up to its narrative about being the land of opportunity by reinforcing social safety nets so that in the aftermath of Covid-19, America will not only recover but also finally become the place it has always aspired to be for all communities. And that is, hopefully, for the entire world to know and learn from.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jay-Ann is a Project/Program Manager by profession who finds joy in writing. An amateur blogger, a Kdrama fanatic, and hiking buddy to my husband of 20+ years. I hope to influence people through my writing so they, too, can find their joy – a deep-rooted and inspired happiness. I also enjoy landscape photography. Find me and connect: