One of ‘our own’: Kern women celebrate America’s first female, south Asian vice president

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Many women and girls across the country expressed joy at the sight of the nation’s first female vice president — the highest rank in U.S. government a woman has ever achieved.

But Kamala Harris’s inaugural moment had special significance for another group of Americans, too: Immigrants, African-Americans and the children of immigrants, particularly from south Asia.

Harris is the daughter of an Indian mother and a Black Jamaican father.

The sight of Harris taking the oath of office Wednesday in front of the U.S. Capitol should be — no matter what your partisan preference — an indelible image. For millions of little girls it was affirmation that they can be whatever they want to be.

“I remember when Geraldine Ferraro was on the ticket (for Democrats in 1984),” said Raji Brar, daughter of first-generation immigrants from India. “And I was in elementary school, and the first thought I had was, ‘Wait, I thought only men were allowed to be president and vice president.’ I stood up a little taller. Wow, women can be vice president or president, and I can’t imagine what that thought has done to me or influenced me over the years …

“As a young girl, to realize you can become president, you can become vice president. But to think it and see it are two different things. So today, when my daughter sees it on TV, it’s a whole different story than when I was in elementary school just thinking about it. But that is the beauty of what we’ve seen today. It is the beauty of America. It is the promise of America that’s realized today.”

But it’s not just the female part of this historic first that matters. It’s the fact that — as the daughter of an immigrant from India — Harris is the first person of south Asian descent to serve as vice president.

Kern County is home to an estimated 12,000 people who can trace their lineage to India. In Kern County they’re overwhelmingly from the state of Punjab, in northern India. Harris’ late mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris immigrated to the United States from the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India.

No matter. Locals like Manpreet Kaur are proud.

“When an ‘Apna,’ which is a Punjabi word for “our own,” makes it, (it’s exciting),” she said. “These kinds of moments don’t ever feel individual. I feel like these types of wins are community wins.”

Mona Gill, an Indian-American optometrist, is excited by both of the breakthroughs Kamala Harris represents.

“I’m ecstatic, I’m so excited,” she said. “When you go out in the world you see such diversity. I feel like the U.S. is just made up of so many different people and cultures and traditions and I feel like she represents all of that.”

All three women say they hope Harris can be an influence in the Biden administration’s dealings with India’s authoritarian president, Ram Nath Kovind.

It’s been an extraordinary 12 months — mostly for the wrong reasons. At least for Kern County women of East Indian descent, 2021 is off to hopeful — and proud — beginning.

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