US Congressman Ami Bera talks about why the VP nomination of Kamala Harris fills him, and the broader Indian-American community, with pride
Kamala Harris’s nomination for the vice presidency of the United States is historic because she is the first African-American woman and first Indian-American woman to be selected for the office by a major political party. In her first speech as the vice-presidential nominee yesterday, Harris talked about how her mother and father, “one from India and the other from Jamaica,” had met in college in America. Now, Harris is close to becoming one of the most powerful people in the world. Here, we interviewed Representative Ami Bera, a Democrat of California, to understand what Harris’s nomination means for the Indian-American community. Congressman Bera is also the longest-serving Indian-American in Congress. Edited excerpts:
Q. What was your reaction when you heard that Kamala Harris had been nominated by Joe Biden as his running mate?
A. I was excited on multiple levels. Obviously, it’s historic. She is nominated to be Vice President at the highest level. That’s an exciting day. When I watched the news coverage yesterday, and they were showing pictures of her with her mother wearing a sari when she was a young child..that reminded me of my story, as well. She’s African-American and Indian-American—it’s exciting.
Q. What does that mean for the Indian diaspora? Do you think the community will become more politically active?
A. I go back to when I was first elected to Congress in 2013. I was the only Indian-American member of Congress at that time. When I was first running, much of the community felt like an Indian-American couldn’t go off to Congress. Well, I did. And then, three short years later, in 2016, we had four additional numbers get elected to the House of Representatives. Fast forward to today, we have an Indian-American vice-presidential nominee. Plus, we have a number of [Indian-American] candidates running to become mayors or state legislators. I think it’s a coming of age of the community politically. Particularly, the younger generation of the [Indian] diaspora certainly understand that they could run for high office.
Q. Is the Indian diaspora excited or are we reading too much into it?
A. I was on a number of calls yesterday. Certainly, there is a genuine sense of excitement in the African-American community. But that excitement is there within the Indian-American community as well—they probably may not be as vocal about it. When I was watching television coverage on CNN and other networks, they did a very good job talking about Kamala Harris’s South Asian ancestry. It fills you with a sense of pride. When I talk to my nieces and my daughter, they can see themselves in Kamala. That matters.
Q. What does the nomination mean for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign?
A. She is a unifying candidate. Just looking at her qualifications, especially at this moment in time when we’re wrestling with criminal justice reform, social unrest, police reforms, she’s qualified to address a number of these domestic issues. The fact is, she’s a US Senator. She has demonstrated her abilities in the Senate. So it’s not just the fact that she’s African-American or South Asian woman. It’s also that she brings a set of qualifications with her.
Q. What kind of considerations might have gone into her VP nomination?
A. Knowing Vice President Biden, Harris was the one person made for the job. [Someone who would understand] what it means to be a partner to the president in the same way he [Biden] was to President Obama. He’s looking for someone who would have that same type of partnership, who would share his vision for unifying the country, and who would address this particular moment in time. Those are the main considerations. A lot has been written about the relationship between Kamala Harris and Vice President Biden’s late son Beau. There is a level of chemistry and a level of trust. And, she certainly has the qualifications. He made a commitment to pick a woman and clearly had a lot of really good candidates to choose from. Ultimately, I think we would have been happy with any one of those candidates. But now, I find myself surprised at how excited I was with the announcement. A lot of the Democrats felt the same way.