In Depth

Five things you may not know about Kamala Harris

US vice president is also children’s author, culinary connoisseur and seasoned breaker of ‘firsts’

The choice of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s vice president marked another first for a woman who has made history throughout her career. 

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” she said in her acceptance speech following the US election last November. As the Democrats celebrated their victory, Harris’s former communications director Gil Duran told the BBC that the new VP - who is also the first black and Asian American person in the role - had long been recognised for her “star potential”. 

“It was always clear that she had the raw talent,” Duran added.

Born in the California city of Oakland in 1964, Harris studied political science and economics at Howard University, before returning to the Golden State to get a degree at UC Hastings College of Law. The new graduate then decided that her future lay in pushing for social-justice reform from the inside, first as a prosecutor and then attorney general of California, and later as a senator - and now as the 49th VP of America. 

“Kamala comes from a long line of kick-ass women,” her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, told the Los Angeles Times in 2004. 

As Harris continues that family tradition, here are five other things you may not know about her.

Literary ambitions 

Then senator Harris published a children’s book in 2019 called Superheroes Are Everywhere. Based on her own experiences and illustrated by Mechal Renee Roe, the picture story teaches young readers that the world is full of real-life superheroes, and that they too can make a difference. 

Months later, Harris also released a memoir, The Truths We Hold. But her literary career dates all the way back to 2009, when she laid out her proposal for an overhaul of the US criminal justice system in a book called Smart on Crime: a Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer.

The now VP and her sister also feature as the protagonists of an illustrated children’s book called Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea, written by the latter’s daughter, Meena Harris, who like both her mother and aunt, is also a law graduate. 

All-female staff 

A firm believer in leading by example, one of the first actions that Harris took as VP-elect was to appoint women in the top three positions in her office. 

Previously a senior adviser to Harris, Rohini Kosoglu took on the role of domestic policy adviser, while former diplomat Nancy McEldowney became national security adviser. The top trio was completed by Tina Flournoy, who was appointed as Harris’ chief of staff, having held the same job with Bill Clinton after he left the White House. 

Harris spoke out last summer about her determination to fight both sexism and racial bias after facing “personal attacks” while vying to become Biden’s election running mate, with some critics accusing her of being “too ambitious”, as CNN reported at the time.

“There will be a resistance to your ambition” from people who only “burdened by having the capacity only to see what has always been instead of what can be”, Harris said during a livestream conversation for the Black Girls Lead 2020 conference. “But don't you let that burden you.”

Life-long protester 

Harris and her sister Maya attended protests from an early age with their mother, a breast cancer researcher, and father Donald, an economist and professor emeritus of Stanford University. 

“When we were growing up, the notion of justice and public service and a commitment to civil rights were not abstractions,” the then newly appointed district attorney of San Francisco told the LA Times back in 2004.  “They were completely a part of our lives, of who we were and who we are.”

The two young sisters even staged their own successful protest after moving from California to the Canadian city of Montreal when the future VP was 12. The following year, The New York Times reports, “Kamala mobilised local children to demonstrate in front of their apartment building because the owner had banned children from playing on the lawn. He backed down.” 

Fanatic about food  

Harris has prepared Masala Dosa with comedian Mindy Kaling and taught Senator Mark Warner how to prepare the perfect tuna salad sandwich (tweeting “Mark - we need to talk” in response to his brine-soaked attempt).

And Harris won more fans by sharing her family’s favourite cornbread dressing Thanksgiving recipe on social media in November.  

Indeed, to say that Harris loves to cook is “an understatement”, her husband, entertainment lawyer Doug Emhoff, told Vogue as she prepared for her White House debut in January. “It just connects her to so many things,” Emhoff added. 

While on the election campaign trail, Harris made a point of eating in local community restaurants, but when she’s at home, a roast chicken is reportedly one of her family’s go-to dishes.

‘Researched’ her husband 

Harris first met her husband after a friend set them up on a blind date in 2013. They married the following year - but after all this time, she still has the ability to surprise him.

During an interview on CBS Sunday Morning in January, host Jane Pauley asked Harris whether she had “googled” Emhoff before their first date. To Emhoff’s surprise, Harris responded: “I’ve never been asked that - I did!” 

“It was practically love at first sight,” added Harris, who is now stepmother to Emhoff’s two children from a previous marriage. 

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