Kamala’s Complicated Relationship With the South Asian Community

Some are proud. Some are not. Here’s how identity politics play out.

Kiran Misra


Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris sits and listen to Joe Biden’s remarks at the Alexis Dupont High School.
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The day after Kamala Harris was named Joe Biden’s pick as his running mate in the 2020 election, Ankit Jain of Washington, D.C., awoke to an email from his South Asian American family members titled, “Fwd: Kamala Harris — Indian Heritage.” A video of Harris making dosas with Mindy Kaling has gone viral in family WhatsApp threads and so has a photo of Harris and her sister Maya clad in saris with their maternal relatives.

South Asian Americans I know have started speculating about what Diwali and Holi in the White House would look like as well as what desi clothing Harris could wear to her inauguration. Some have started calling Harris “Kamala Akka,” meaning sister in Tamil, and have wondered if the amount of effort people have suddenly devoted to learning the pronunciation of Harris’s name bodes well for White America finally understanding how to pronounce ours. The most dogged have started searching for any relatives or family members who live in Besant Nagar, Harris’ grandparents’ home neighborhood in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, to find a closer personal connection to the vice presidential nominee.

Outlets from the New York Times to the Washington Post have been quick to call…