The history-making daughter of a Caribbean immigrant is forcefully rejecting personal attacks on her character, heritage and eligibility as she seeks to become the next vice president of the United States.
Senator Kamala Harris, who was born in the U.S. to a Jamaican father and Indian mother, was last month chosen by Democrat Joe Biden as his running mate. Biden is challenging incumbent Donald Trump to become president.
The selection of Harris, a Democratic senator who represents her birth state of California, drew widespread praise as she became the first black woman picked for that role by a major U.S. political party. Among those supporting the choice, which was announced by Biden on Aug. 11, were Barack Obama, the first African American to hold the office of U.S. president, the general Caribbean American community and citizens living in the Caribbean.
However, Biden’s preference, which finally silenced months of mounting speculation, also drew public backlash from political opponents, mainly Republicans. Some questioned if Harris was legally qualified as a U.S. citizen to hold the office of vice president, if the Biden-Harris ticket was elected on Nov. 3. Others claimed she could not legitimately be African American because her parents were not U.S. citizens when she was born at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland.
Some, including President Donald Trump, resorted to calling Harris ugly names in an attempt to stain her character. Trump has described the 55-year-old as “extraordinarily nasty,” “the meanest,” “sort of a mad woman” and “the most horrible.” He also criticized her verbal attacks against Biden during the Democratic presidential debates, when Harris was a candidate for the top White House job, but later dropped out of the race.
Shortly after Biden announced Harris as his running mate, Trump did not dismiss outright the possibility that she may ineligible to hold the office of vice president due to her parents’ immigrant background. Instead, the president cited a recent magazine article by a conservative attorney which raised that issue.
According to U.S. constitution, she is eligible because she was born in the country.
Harris publicly confronted the doubters and, in the process, blasted Trump’s record as president, especially during the time of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Donald Trump's failure of leadership has cost lives and livelihoods,” Harris said while addressing the Democratic National Convention (DNC) on Aug. 19, where she was officially confirmed as her party’s vice presidential nominee.
“If you're a parent struggling with your child’s remote learning, or you’re a teacher struggling on the other side of that screen, you know that what we’re doing right now isn’t working.”
Days later, she described Trump’s efforts to discredit her as a way of turning the negative spotlight away from himself, especially during the pandemic, which had infected roughly six million Americans and killed at least 200,000 by the end of August.
“There is so much that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth that’s designed to distract the American people from what he’s doing every day that is about neglect and harm to the American people,” she told ABC News.
During that interview, Biden defended Harris, while also lambasting Trump’s reaction to his running mate.
“No president has ever said anything like that,” the former U.S. vice-president said. “No president has used those words.”
Biden’s selection appeared to galvanize his campaign, which raised $48 million immediately after Harris was named his running mate and another $70 million following the DNC. Her choice was heralded by a cross-section of the Democratic Party.
“Joe picked the right partner in Kamala,” Hillary Clinton, who lost the race for U.S. president to Trump in 2026, said during DNC. “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are gonna give us so much more.”
During the DNC Obama said Harris is “more than prepared for the job” and that “Joe and Kamala will restore our standing in the world” if elected.
“They actually care about every American and they care deeply about democracy,” he added.
The Caribbean community also rallied around Harris’s selection.
“Senator Harris embodies and is the epitome of the American dream,” U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, daughter of Jamaican immigrants, told the Caribbean Media Corporation.
“I am proud to serve in Congress alongside my fellow Jamaican colleague and change maker who is paying the way for women of color in politics and beyond,” Clarke added. “(Her selection) … truly marks a historic milestone for the Democratic Party and the American people.”
“Kamala has a Jamaican father. The Democratic Vice-Presidential Nominee has a Jamaican connection. As far as Jamaicans are concerned, WE will be vice-president!”, an edited Twitter message from @yooneedmorejodi partially stated.
Even Republican critics and media figures who normally oppose Democrats, nodded with approval over the choice of Harris. Colin Powell, a former U.S. Army general and secretary of state under a Republican government, whose parents were born in Jamaica and who addressed the DNC, has said he will support the Biden-Harris ticket.
In her speech at the DNC, Harris credited her success as “testament to the generations before me,” including her parents Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris, who met as college students and “fell in love in that most American way - while marching together for justice in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.”
Her father later taught economics at Stanford University. The couple separated when Harris was age five and she was raised, along with her sister Maya, mostly by her mother.
While Harris heaped effusive praise about her upbringing on her mother, a theme reminiscent of tributes in her autobiography “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey”, she did not offer much detail about her relationship with her father at the DNC.
However, in “The Truths” Harris described her father as “a brilliant student” and the one who encouraged her, at an early age, to explore all possibilities.
“I remember that when I was a little girl my father wanted me to run free,” she wrote.
In the children’s book “SUPERHEROES Are Everywhere”, which Harris also wrote, she called her father a “superhero because he made me feel brave.”
“The Truths” shows Harris visiting family in Jamaica multiple times as a child. They included her great grandmother Iris Finegan, grandmother Beryl and grandfather Oscar Joseph.
During the DNC, Harris also defined her “family” as her husband Doug, his children Cole and Ella who call her “Momala”, her sister Maya, best friend, nieces, godchildren, “Mrs. Shelton” (a neighbor who “helped raise” her), college sorority sisters, plus aunts and uncles, which included some from the Caribbean island.
The former attorney general of California also praised women who fought for equal rights for women, including the late “great” Shirley Chisholm, daughter of Caribbean immigrants who became a U.S. congresswoman and later ran for president, the first black woman to do so. Harris promised a Biden-Harris partnership in the White House would reverse damage done to the U.S. done by Trump and his administration.
“Joe and I believe that we can build that beloved community,” she said.
Harris criticized the president’s continuous missteps in response to the pandemic.
“(Trump) got it wrong from the beginning,” Harris said during a speech on Aug. 27, “then he got it wrong again and again.”
She also slammed Trump’s response to several other areas, including race issues, an economy slowed by COVID-19 and his stance on immigration.
“There is no vaccine for racism,” Harris said.
Harris will be up against current Vice President Mike Pence in a debate scheduled for Oct. 7.