Updated Aug 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Harris pays tribute to immigrant mother as she accepts historic VP nomination

Sen. Kamala Harris paid tribute to her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, during her acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination for vice president on Wednesday night, saying: "My mother instilled in my sister, Maya, and me the values that would chart the course of our lives."

Why it matters: Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, is the first Black and Asian American woman to accept a spot on a major party’s presidential ticket. Family was the overarching theme of Harris's acceptance speech, which capped a night of convention programming that included a blistering rebuke of President Trump by former President Obama.

What she's saying: "She raised us to be proud, strong Black women. And she raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage," Harris said of her mother. "She taught us to put family first—the family you’re born into and the family you choose."

  • "Family, is my husband Doug, who I met on a blind date set up by my best friend. Family is our beautiful children, Cole and Ella, who as you just heard, call me Momala. Family is my sister. Family is my best friend, my nieces and my godchildren."
  • "Family is my uncles, my aunts—my chitthis. Family is Mrs. Shelton—my second mother who lived two doors down and helped raise me. Family is my beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha...our Divine 9…and my HBCU brothers and sisters. Family is the friends I turned to when my mother—the most important person in my life—passed away from cancer."
  • "And even as she taught us to keep our family at the center of our world, she also pushed us to see a world beyond ourselves."

The big picture: Harris said her mother's teachings on justice led her to become a lawyer, a district attorney, an attorney general and a senator.

  • "And at every step of the way, I’ve been guided by the words I spoke from the first time I stood in a courtroom: Kamala Harris, For the People," Harris said.
  • "I’ve fought for children, and survivors of sexual assault. I’ve fought against transnational gangs. I took on the biggest banks, and helped take down one of the biggest for-profit colleges."
  • "I know a predator when I see one."

In the room: Axios' Alexi McCammond, who was a pool reporter in the largely empty Chase Center in downtown Wilmington as Harris took the stage, describes what it was like to witness Harris' historic speech in such a surreal setting:

  • "We got another COVID check despite getting tested in the morning. We were asked to wear medical masks instead of the ones we had. We sat in an auditorium that felt like a college lecture hall and watched the convention on a big projection screen. Then we were escorted to this room where it was so silent you could hear a pin drop. No one could get up from chairs except for photographers."
  • "Harris didn’t greet us when she came out (obviously not supposed to because she’s going live), but that added to the weirdness of the new normal reality. She delivered this sweeping speech to a silent room of 30 reporters."
  • "Afterward, no applause (obviously). Biden came out and it was even more awkward because they stood so far apart. Harris clapped at the screen after her speech. Then her husband Doug and Dr. Jill Biden came out and they waved, and then they left."

The bottom line: "My mother taught me that service to others gives life purpose and meaning. And oh, how I wish she were here tonight but I know she’s looking down on me from above," Harris said as she prepared to officially accept the nomination.

  • "I keep thinking about that 25-year-old Indian woman—all of five feet tall—who gave birth to me at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, California."
  • "On that day, she probably could have never imagined that I would be standing before you now speaking these words: I accept your nomination for Vice President of the United States of America."
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