Here’s what we know about the California senator’s family.
Her parents were civil rights activists
Harris grew up in a household with a Jamaican father and Indian mother. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, emigrated from India in 1960 to attend the University of California, Berkeley and pursue a doctorate in endocrinology. Her father, Donald Harris, emigrated from Jamaica in 1961 to also attend Berkley. Both of her parents were actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
“It’s because of them and the folks who also took to the streets to fight for justice that I am where I am. They laid the path for me, as only the second Black woman ever elected to the United States Senate,” Harris proudly shared on Instagram in June.
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My parents marched and shouted in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. It’s because of them and the folks who also took to the streets to fight for justice that I am where I am. They laid the path for me, as only the second Black woman ever elected to the United States Senate. Years later, we are still fighting for justice and to confront the systemic racism that has plagued our country since its earliest days. But the power of this movement cannot be denied. Change is possible.
Her parents divorced when Harris was seven years old. Harris wrote in her memoir, “The Truths We Hold” that “they didn’t fight about money. The only thing they fought about was who got the books.” Though her father remained a part of their lives, Harris and her sister lived with their mother who she said: “was the one most responsible for shaping us into the women we would become.”
Her father, Donald Harris, was a professor at Stanford University where he taught economics classes. According to his bio on Stanford’s website, his career took him across the globe and he has served as an economic consultant to the Government of Jamaica. He retired from Stanford in 1998.
While the vice presidential nominee does not speak much about her father, she often mentions her mother, an accomplished breast cancer scientist who died from colon cancer in 2009. “I’m the daughter of a mother who broke down all kinds of barriers. Shyamala Harris was no more than five feet tall, but if you ever met her you would think she was seven feet tall. She had such spirit and tenacity and I’m thankful every day to have been raised by her,” she wrote on Instagram in May.
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I’m the daughter of a mother who broke down all kinds of barriers. Shyamala Harris was no more than five feet tall, but if you ever met her you would think she was seven feet tall. She had such spirit and tenacity and I’m thankful every day to have been raised by her. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers, stepmothers, and mother figures near or far who are celebrating today.
“My mother taught us the importance of a good education. She taught us the good old-fashioned value of hard work. She taught us don’t let anyone tell you who you are. You tell them who you are. She taught us not only to dream but to do. She taught us to believe in our power to right what is wrong,” she wrote on another post.
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My sister Maya and I were raised by a strong mother. My mother taught us the importance of a good education. She taught us the good old-fashioned value of hard work. She taught us don’t let anyone tell you who you are. You tell them who you are. She taught us not only to dream but to do. She taught us to believe in our power to right what is wrong. And she was the kind of parent who if you came home complaining about something, she’d say “Well what are you gonna do about it?” So I decided to run for President of the United States.
Two days after the announcement that she would be Biden’s pick, Harris remembered her mother on social media, “I dearly wish she were here with us this week.”
She is close to her relatives in India
Harris’ mother often took her to India to visit their family there. “When I was a young girl visiting my grandparents in India, I’d join my grandfather and his buddies on their morning walk along the beach as they would talk about the importance of fighting for democracy and civil rights,” she wrote on Instagram.
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When I was a young girl visiting my grandparents in India, I’d join my grandfather and his buddies on their morning walk along the beach as they would talk about the importance of fighting for democracy and civil rights. Those walks made me who I am today and it’s why I’m proud to launch our South Asians For The People community. Join us by clicking the link in my bio.
“I come from a family of fighters,” she said at the New Hampshire Democratic party convention last year.
In a recent interview with Reuters partner ANI, Harris maternal uncle, Gopalan Balachandran, said Biden’s announcement was a “historic day for the Indian community.”
“Our family feels happy and I feel happy that my sister, Shyamla, her mother, would have been very happy and proud of her daughter,” Balachandran said from his home in New Delhi. “It’s a historic day in a number of ways for the Indian community for the first time getting into a high political position.”
Her sister is a close political advisor
Maya Harris, Kamala’s younger sister, is “incredibly proud” of her sister’s achievements. The 53-year-old has been at Harris’ side throughout her political journey.
That day when a little girl from Oaktown became the first black woman to be a major-party vice-presidential nominee…😭
So incredibly proud of you, sis!
— Maya Harris (@mayaharris_) August 11, 2020
She was the campaign chairwoman for Harris’ presidential bid and the two are very close.
“I think most people who know Maya will tell you she’s one of the smartest people they know,” Kamala said in an interview with Politico. “The fact that she has volunteered to work on this campaign at such a high level, and she’s exactly who she’s always been — she works around the clock and she’s probably the hardest, if not one of the hardest working people on the campaign — I feel very blessed.”
After Biden’s announcement, Harris’ younger sister echoed the role their mother has played in their lives. “You can’t know who Kamala Harris is without knowing who our mother was,” she tweeted.
— Maya Harris (@mayaharris_) August 12, 2020
Her husband is an attorney and she is a step-mother
Harris met Douglas Emhoff on a blind date, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and they got married six years ago at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. The 55-year-old is an entertainment lawyer and partner at the DLA Piper law firm where he represents clients in “complex business, real estate and intellectual property litigation disputes,” according to his company bio.
Emhoff has been supportive of his wife throughout her political career and bid for the White House.
— Douglas Emhoff (@douglasemhoff) July 3, 2019
After Harris announced she would be ending her presidential campaign, Emhoff shared a picture with the caption, “I’ve got you. As always.”
I’ve got you. As always.❤️ pic.twitter.com/5OJDT3cDfw
— Douglas Emhoff (@douglasemhoff) December 3, 2019
If Biden wins the election, Emhoff will be the nation’s first second gentleman, which Biden addressed during his first appearance with his VP pick on Wednesday. “Doug, you’re going to have to learn what it means to be a barrier-breaker yourself in this job you’re about to take on,” Biden said during his speech in Delaware.
The Brooklyn-born attorney has two children, Cole and Ella, named after jazz legends John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald, from a previous relationship with Kerstin Emhoff, who Harris calls is a “dear friend.” The children call the vice presidential candidate “Momala,” and Harris said they are her “endless source of love and pure joy.”
“They are brilliant, talented, funny kids who have grown to be remarkable adults,” Harris said in an interview with Elle Magazine. “I was already hooked on Doug, but I believe it was Cole and Ella who reeled me in.”
Cole is a graduate of Colorado College, and according to his LinkedIn profile, he is an executive assistant at Plan B. His sister, Ella, is a student at Parsons School of Design and she is an avid knitter according to her Instagram account.
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