World

Madam Vice President: who's who in the Harris clan

19 January 2021

9:00 AM

19 January 2021

9:00 AM

Nearly three months since the US election, Kamala Harris will soon make history as the first woman to be sworn in as Vice-President.As the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, Harris has made much of her historic background. And not always without controversy – the recent ‘fweedom’ gaffe being a case in point.

So who’s who in the new Vice President’s family?

The inspiration – PV Gopalan (1911 – 1998), Harris’s grandfather

Born into a Brahmin family in Tamil Nadu, Painganadu Venkataraman Gopalan joined the Indian civil service during the final decades of British rule. After independence, he specialised in the resettlement of refugees, eventually being stationed in Zambia to help with the flow of people fleeing neighbouring Rhodesia.Harris, who visited her grandfather in Zambia as a child, has spoken fondly about him as her ‘favourite person’, with the two exchanging letters during the early years of her career. He plays a central role in her 2019 memoir, The Truths We Hold.But was it all – well – true? One US newspaper reported that Harris’s Indian uncle had rubbished her description of Gopalan as an advocate for Indian independence. According to the paper, not only was there no record of him taking such a position, but it would have likely been career suicide too.

GettyImages-1229521983.jpgBalachandran Gopalan, uncle of Kamala Harris, outside his home in New Delhi (Getty)

The trailblazer – Shyamala Gopalan (1938 – 2009), Harris’s mother

Raised in various cities across India, Shyamala Gopalan first went to the US in 1958 to undertake a masters in nutrition and endocrinology at UC Berkeley. After graduation, she forged a successful career as a cancer researcher (including being appointed to a presidential task force on breast cancer).It was at Berkeley, at a meeting about civil rights, that she would cross paths with Donald J Harris, her Jamaican-born future husband. The couple had two children (Kamala and her younger sister Maya) and settled in California, before separating semi-amicably some years later.Sadly, Shyamala Gopalan Harris never lived to see her daughter’s elevation to high office, succumbing to colon cancer at the age of 70 in 2009. The VP was said to be extremely close to her mother, travelling to Chennai in East India to scatter her ashes following her untimely death.

The economist – Donald J Harris (1938 – ), Harris’s father


Born and educated in Jamaica, Donald J Harris moved to the US in the early 60s to undertake a PhD (at UC Berkeley) in economics.Described by one newspaper as a ‘Marxist scholar’ and a ‘pied piper leading students astray’, Harris became the first black scholar to receive tenure in the economics department of Stanford. He remains an emeritus professor there to this day.Though Kamala Harris isn’t considered to be particularly close to her father, they did have one interesting interaction in early 2019, after the then presidential candidate made a joking reference to her Jamaican heritage when admitting to smoking cannabis.This stereotype apparently incensed Harris Snr. ‘Speaking for myself and my immediate Jamaican family, we wish to categorically dissociate ourselves from this travesty,’ he wrote on his blog.

The partner – Doug Emhoff (1964 – ), Kamala’s husband

GettyImages-1167287454.jpgKamala Harris with Doug Emhoff (Getty)

As if the various firsts being racked up by Kamala Harris weren’t enough, her husband will bag two of his own when his wife is sworn in: becoming America’s first ever ‘Second Gentleman’, and the first Jewish spouse of a Vice-President.So who is the man at Kamala’s side? A high-earning partner with corporate law firm DLA Piper, Emhoff met Harris through political circles in California in the 2000s, eventually marrying her in 2014 around the time of his 50th birthday.Upon marrying Emhoff, Harris took on two step-children from his first marriage. They apparently took to calling her ‘Momala’, which, even by the standards of family pet-names, is pretty cringe-inducing.

The sidekick – Maya Harris (1967 -), Harris’s sister

GettyImages-1267245503.jpgMaya Harris – Kamala’s sister (Getty)

It turns out Kamala isn’t the only political operator in her immediate family. Her younger sister Maya is a considerable force in America’s centre-left establishment, including the Democratic party, in her own right.Having held positions at left-leaning think tanks and NGOs, Harris junior (a qualified lawyer and one-time single mother) became a senior policy adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. She also chaired Kamala’s own campaign for president, which fizzled out unceremoniously after the initial debates.Does she have high political ambitions of her own? Who knows. Her sister’s Senate seat will, of course, be open for the taking. But does America have the appetite for another political dynasty?

The Harvard law graduate – Meena Harris (1984 -), Harris’s niece

GettyImages-1267245529.jpgMeena Harris – Kamala’s niece (Getty)

The only child of Maya Harris, Meena Harris is a Harvard law graduate who worked at Uber, Facebook and Slack before founding her own advocacy organisation for women’s rights.If that’s not enough, Harris Jnr has also done her bit to further one of the most cringeworthy trends in recent years by penning her own woke children’s book. Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea is an illustrated story about how the two young sisters apparently embarked on a campaign to have an empty courtyard turned into a makeshift playground.

The ex – Willie Brown (1934 – ), Harris’s former squeeze

GettyImages-52595678.jpgWillie Brown (Image: Getty)

Given she survived two rounds of vettings and a bitter election campaign against ruthless opponents, we can safely assume there are no major skeletons in Harris’s closet. But that isn’t to say there isn’t some juicy gossip.It turns out that, in her 20s, Harris had a relationship with Willie Brown, a mover and shaker in California’s Democratic party throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. That of course makes him slightly older than Ms Harris…Their tryst entered the spotlight after Harris’s campaign launch in 2019. When Brown was asked if he’d had a hand in launching her career – notably her first role as district attorney – he insisted all was above board.‘[She] is the only one who, after I helped her, sent word that I would be indicted if I ‘so much as jaywalked,’ said Brown, clearing up the matter rather bluntly.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.


Show comments
Close