Madam Vice President Aunty Kamala Harris. I’m crying. You can’t see me. But I am. It’s very hard to type. The Vice President of the United States is, for the first time in history, a woman. A Black woman. A woman of South Asian descent. I, too, am a woman of South Asian descent. An American girl, but also an Indian woman. Today something happened. I felt seen. Perhaps for the first time ever. It’s hard to put into words what this means to this brown girl in America. But I’ll try.
I was raised by a matriarchy. An Indian matriarchy in America. (Oh, my Dad was there too, but he’ll gladly admit he lived under this matriarchy. Still does! And he couldn’t have been prouder. Same with my late grandfather and my younger brother.) Women raised us all. My grandmother, mother, aunt, and all the aunties. ALL THE AUNTIES. Don’t call them by their first name, without the Aunty, you will regret it. So I’m calling VP-elect Aunty Kamala because I’m scared not to.
It’s taken many years to be able to see myself in someone who’s in a position where she can make our voices heard and change the world. No more will I feel like we have to convince our leaders to hear us. Because they are us. They know. They really know. Or rather she knows. Aunty Kamala is about to become the second most powerful person in the United States. Wow. And to my family and me, that is life-changing.
I have never had a boss who looks like me. I was an Indian kid, who grew up in Connecticut. (Yes, the state that is basically one giant private school). I didn’t see a lot of people like me. I was the minority. Like, really the minority. In my high school class, you could count the number of diverse kids on one hand. Seriously, there were five of us, I believe.
It is impossible to explain what it feels like to not be seen most of your life. Without naming Mindy Kaling, tell me what other people like me you’ve seen in American pop culture — on television and in movies? Now tell me how many of them have an Indian accent. Now tell me if they’re the lead. They’re not. We never have been. Until now.
Four years ago, on Election Day, I brought a photo of my Nani with me when I went to vote. She had died earlier in the year (coincidentally the same morning that Justice Scalia died), and she truly was the president of my life. I’m glad, in a way, that she went before she had to see Donald Trump become President. She would have been deeply disappointed — and you wouldn’t want my grandmother to be disappointed in you, America. She was an English and biology teacher and television producer and director in India and America. She was a refugee who lived through awful times — the partition of India and Pakistan. Typhoid. She lived in Washington, D.C., when JFK was assassinated, and in the last year of her life, she recalled that it was one of the worst events she ever experienced besides the partition. So she probably could have handled Trump, but after experiencing the last few years where hate, misogyny, and racism were amplified by that man, I am glad she didn’t have to.
In late 2016, I was at a family friend’s dinner with my parents. Their 17-year-old son said it would mean nothing if Hillary Clinton won. I didn’t react well. “You have no idea what it would mean to a young girl to have a woman be president,” I snapped. “Educate yourself.” I hope he did. If Hillary had become President, it would have changed life for all women and girls in this country. And Kamala Harris becoming VP has done the same. But, for Black and brown women, it has done so much more.
“You could be president.” pic.twitter.com/akB2Zia2W7
— Meena Harris (@meenaharris) November 5, 2020
I have been lucky enough to have many strong women in my life help me see that I’m worth something. It hasn’t always been easy. Girls are taught from a young age, especially Indian girls, to not make waves, to be quiet, and to just deal with it. Well, we’re done. You deal with us. (She says strongly as she types).
In addition to my grandmother and mother, other strong women influenced me. One of my first bosses, when I was right out of college and worked in television and film production in New York City, was Julianne Moore. She told me about a job at Planned Parenthood, and thanks to her, I worked in women’s health and reproductive rights for many years. I learned how to fight for women, and I also learned how to fight for myself — because as sad as it sounds now, it wasn’t until that job that I realized how unseen I was. How I almost felt like I had to hide that I was Indian. How I had to fit in, in America at the expense of who I was. But really, it was because other than my family, I didn’t see any Indians in any lead roles in life, be it on television or in the government.
When I first started thinking about this piece, I knew I’d be writing it from extreme joy or extreme devastation, and I was prepared for the worst. (My alternate title: “Kamala Harris F-ing Lost, and I’m Moving.”) So yes, I am excited. Understatement. Beyond excited. But I know that we all have work to do. Our country is deeply divided. And that can’t change overnight — or in four years.
Sometimes, I feel like not much has changed in 400 years. But I have hope. A woman is finally Vice President. And it only took 245 years since the U.S. became a country. It was worth the wait, but we shouldn’t have had to wait so long. So let’s make this the norm, and not the exception. To Nani, to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (America’s grandmother), and all the women who paved the way for us, this is for you. We will keep working. And like I said, I have hope. And this is why.
In 2012, I got an invitation to Obama’s White House Easter Egg Roll. I took my nephew and two nieces. They’re actually my cousin’s kids, but we’re Indian, so again, everyone’s an Aunty. Alexander was 11, his sister Bella, 9, and Emma, 7. On a sunny day in Washington, D.C., they rolled eggs on the back lawn of the White House, and saw the Obamas hanging with a giant bunny. After it was done, we walked through the streets, seeing the White House get smaller and smaller in the background. Bella stopped suddenly and said, “I hope I marry someone who becomes President one day, so I can live in the White House.” Her brother turned to her and said, “You don’t have to marry someone. You can be President.” Yes, Alexander. Yes, she can.
My nephew is 19 today. He voted for the first time in Philadelphia. Stood in line for five hours and cast his vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. (I think his long game might be to get his sister elected as President, so he can live at the White House and not do any of the work.) Good plan, man. Because who runs the world? Girls.
This piece first ran on November 7, 2020.