For Harris, memories of mother guide bid for vice president

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This 2007 photo provided by the Kamala Harris campaign shows her with her mother, Shyamala, at a Chinese New Year parade. (Kamala Harris campaign via AP)

NEW YORK – Speaking from the Senate floor for the first time, Kamala Harris expressed gratitude for a woman on whose shoulders she said she stood. In her autobiography, Harris interspersed the well-worn details of her resume with an extended ode to the one she calls “the reason for everything.” And taking the stage to announce her presidential candidacy , she framed it as a race grounded in the compassion and values of the person she credits for her fighting spirit.

Though more than a decade has passed since Shyamala Gopalan died, she remains a force in her daughter’s life as she takes a historic spot on the Democratic ticket besides former Vice President Joe Biden. Those who know the California senator expect her campaign for the vice presidency to bring repeated mentions of the woman she calls her single greatest influence.

“She’s always told the same story,” said friend Mimi Silbert. “Kamala had one important role model, and it was her mother.”


EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was originally published on May 11, 2019, as part of an occasional series exploring the stories that the Democratic presidential candidates tell about themselves, their families and the origins of their political drive. This story has been updated to reflect Harris’ selection by Joe Biden to be his vice presidential running mate.


Harris' mother gave her an early grounding in the civil rights movement and injected in her a duty not to complain but rather to act. And that no-nonsense demeanor on display in Senate hearings over special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and more? Onlookers can credit, or blame, Gopalan, a crusader who raised her daughter in the same mold.

“She’d tell us: ‘Don’t sit around and complain about things. Do something.' So I did something," Harris said Wednesday in her first appearance with Biden as his running mate.