- Judging by the way my heart and my mind have been soaring to new heights all week, it is the feeling of finally having arrived.
This morning, all across the nation, little girls woke up, especially little Black and brown girls, who so often feel overlooked and undervalued…Today, just maybe, they’re seeing themselves for the first time in a new way. — Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden, 8/12/20.
I needed a few days to process it. This astounding, completely novel feeling. I think I have dreamt of it, and I know I have absolutely believed in it. And especially in more recent days, I’ve advocated heavily for it. But I don’t remember ever thinking it would happen. Things like this aren’t expected to happen for people like us. Yet, it was true. Kamala Devi Harris, my Senator, daughter of immigrants, part desi girl, full superwoman, has been selected as the first woman of color on a presidential ticket.
The first time I saw Sen. Harris speak was at a Women’s Conference in 2017. As a lifelong Democrat, I had liked and voted for her. But I wasn’t prepared to learn about her life’s work in person. After all, my heart had shut down on Nov. 8, 2016, broken from a nightmare election that destroyed the candidate of my dreams and stole my first woman president. It was still frozen. Harris spoke of her work with incarcerated women—who are forced to give birth while shackled to beds in this country—and of young girls who are trafficked and treated like criminals instead of children and victims. As I listened, something clicked. Actual chills, a faint recognition of a very lost feeling. Hope. There she was, right in front of me again. Every single thing I believe in.
I started volunteering late in 2016, quiet and unaware of my own power. After the apocalypse, I promised myself that I would be loud, determined, and active next time. I became a precinct captain and helped flip my district in 2018. During our last weekend push, I saw Sen. Harris again. She and Gavin Newsom brought us pizza to thank volunteers. She looked directly at me a few times. Warm eyes smiling, mouthing “hi,” a conversation from across the room. As she was whisked away by staff, a little African American girl ran after her. So she stopped, knelt down, and talked to her. That little girl just kept dancing with joy afterward. I saw that this talented public servant cared. About us.
About the 40% of people in this country, invisible people of color…unseen, unheard, usually ignored. She cared about victims. The disenfranchised. The most vulnerable members of our society. She wanted to give everyone a voice and access to the American dream. She told every child that she or he could be a leader. I knew that women, especially women of color, needed tremendous support to be able to compete at all. So when she decided to run for president, I was already all in.
I attended the senator’s first fundraiser in Los Angeles, stepping carefully through a rare downpour in West Hollywood, noting that rain is auspicious in our culture. I volunteered at her first Los Angeles rally, seating a 90 year-old woman who was later featured on the campaign website. And I finally met my Kamala! I was unexpectedly whisked to the rope line to get my selfie. I later attended her fundraiser at Gov. Gray Davis’s home. This time, I told her that she is the only person to give me hope after 2016. She held my hand and said we were all in this together. I told her my grandfather participated in India’s freedom movement, like hers. She wanted to know all about that. This is what Kamala Harris is to me: hope and representation.When a young volunteer at the Democratic Convention asked me to record my feelings on video, I blurted out: “It’s like she’s my voice. It’s my voice up there.”
So what does a Biden-Harris ticket mean? In the first 24 hours after the VP announcement, I saw more black and brown women on prime time TV than I ever have in my life. All beaming. I see myself in her family pictures. My little sister and I wore the same dresses she and Maya did. We were little girls of the 70s too, with a banana bicycle and black hair in ponytails. Her mom’s sarees shone like my mom’s sarees, elegant and proud—but alien at the school events mom wore to. Her mother was also the central figure of her childhood. Emotionally at least, my mom raised us on her own. And perhaps most important, given systemic racism, I was brown…and Kamala was black and brown too.
Immediately after the last election, I felt brown again. Not in the “we love your skin” and “I love Indian weddings” celebratory way that had been the norm for so long. I felt brown in the foreign, different, outsider way. The “where are you from” and “I didn’t realize your blood is red too” way. I’ve heard both. Mostly, the invisible way. The “looking straight past me, not realizing I’m there” way. The never-promoted way, despite stellar performance reviews every year. The “stay inside your box, behave so you can be here” way. Every Indian American I know understands this shade of brown. Kamala Harris knows this color too, and the deeper, more challenging color of being black. It means she can see us. She can hear us. And, as we now joyfully recognize, the second-in-command can be us.
Kamala Harris’s potential vice presidency has the power to not only speak for us, but to give us a seat at that elusive table—the one where our country’s most important decisions are made. We have never been there. We may not reach it this time. But seeing someone who looks like us and grew up like us and understands our issues…someone who offers the possibility of lifting our voices to real political power for the very first time? This is the feeling I couldn’t define. Judging by the way my heart and my mind have been soaring to new heights all week, it is the feeling of finally having arrived. It’s the dance of the little girl after her event. It is joy and belonging and equality. In every shade of beautiful.
Vinita Jha lived in four different countries by the time she was 10 years old and picked up a new accent in each one. Her parents finally settled in Jackson, Michigan. Vinita attended the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she majored in English and Communication. After marriage she moved to Orange County, California, where she and her husband raised two little boys who are both over 6 feet tall now. After earning an MBA in Marketing from California State University, Long Beach, Vinita joined the educational publishing industry, where she has worked as an Editor and Marketing Campaign Manager since 2008. She is a proud activist since 2016, and a lifetime advocate for human and civil rights for all.