Decoding the Enigma That is VP Kamala Harris and Economist Father Donald J. Harris' Relationship
Kamala Devi Harris broke many glass ceilings to become the Vice President of the United States of America. Her remarkable political portfolio also speaks volumes about the many hurdles she has overcome before taking the second-highest office in the country. She was born to biracial parents: her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was an Indian immigrant, while her father was a Jamaican-born Economics professor. Though she often credits her mother for her success, it is worth noting that the VP has only briefly referred to her father in a speech. So, what's the missing link here? Is their relationship estranged, or is he entirely absent from his daughter's life? Let's take a look at the facts.
During her speech in August 2023 at the Democratic National Convention, Harris revealed, "At the University of California Berkeley [my mother] met my father, Donald Harris, who came from Jamaica to study economics." The 58-year-old continued, "They fell in love in that most American way while marching together for justice during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s," as reported by The U.S. Sun. "In the streets of Oakland and Berkeley, I got a strollers-eye view of people getting into what the great John Lewis called 'good trouble.'"
Her parents reportedly tied the knot in July 1963, and Harris was born on October 20, 1964, after which her sister, attorney Maya Harris, became a part of the family on January 30, 1967. However, the couple split in 1971, when the former prosecutor was seven years old and her sister was four.
Apparently, it was just the three of them—Shyamala and her girls—after the divorce. Although Harris' mother died in 2009, her bereaved father wrote an essay, Reflections of a Jamaican Father, in 2018 and shared his plight. In it, he detailed how after losing the custody battle, Donald claimed his relationship with his daughters 'came to an abrupt halt.'
The economist also encouraged Harris and her sister to embrace their Jamaican heritage. He penned, "To this day, I continue to retain the deep social awareness and strong sense of identity which that grassroots Jamaican philosophy fed in me," reported Jamaica Global. "As a father, I naturally sought to develop the same sensibility in my two daughters... Born and bred in America, Kamala was the first in line to have it planted. Maya came two years later and had the advantage of an older sibling as mentor. It is for them to say truthfully now, not me, what if anything of value they carried from that early experience into adulthood."
However, despite her father's success (he even taught at Stanford), she rarely speaks about him. The father lamented that the 'biased' California courts favored his late wife and gave full custody to the mother, as per National Post. Although Harris remained tight-lipped about the matter, the reason for the somewhat estranged relationship is unclear.
Despite being the Vice President's father and a renowned Economist himself, the media couldn't fully dissect the Democrat's relationship with the 82-year-old. Steven Fazzari, an Economics professor at Washington University in St. Louis and a doctoral student of Harris's in the 1980s, said, "It seems pretty clear that he wants to stay out of the limelight." Fazarri continued, "It's a bit unusual, but it could be what he wants, and she's respecting it... He's the academic's academic. He's very thoughtful, very deep in his thinking. Rather abstract and theoretical." However, Harris frankly said in a 2003 interview, "My father is a good guy," adding, "but we are not close."
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