Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ ancestral village celebrated the win of its daughter.
It was days of drama (now weeks) after Election Day. As CNN host John King spent days tirelessly facing the magic wall to explain what was happening, miles away in Tamil Nadu, India, a small village was rooting for vice president nominee Kamala Harris—in a very Indian way.
This village, Thulasendrapuram, is where Harris’s maternal grandfather was born. And this is where media outlets captured pride, anticipation, and euphoria that made international headlines.
Home to 350 people, the South Indian village erected posters and banners with Harris’ photos to show their pride in her nomination. One of the banners read in Tamil, “We, the people of Thulasendrapuram, wish for the electoral success of American vice president nominee Kamala Harris, whose ancestors were a native of Thulasendrapuram.”
In fact, dozens of locals made a beeline to a Hindu temple to offer prayers to the deity to wish her luck as they waited with bated breath for the result. Religious verses were recited, roses and jasmine were presented to the Lord, milk was poured over the idol, and a feast of idli-sambar was offered to the poor—all to ask blessings for Harris for the upcoming election results.
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When it was (finally) announced that Biden-Harris had taken the White House, this little-known village in South India erupted in celebration. Jubilant villagers marked this historic win by bursting firecrackers, distributing sweets, making rangolis (the art of making patterns and shapes on floors using colors or flowers), and praying some more. The Hindu festival of Diwali came a week early to this part of India.
The Harris Effect
Kamala Harris, a 55-year-old former Attorney General of California, is the first woman Vice President of the U.S. She is also the first African American to hold the office and the first American of Indian descent to be elected to the seat. In all, she has shattered many glass ceilings with this historic win. In her native village where her grandfather once lived, this has ignited a ray of hope.
Back in August, no one in the village knew about Harris. It was after the media started talking about her Indian roots when Joe Biden chose her as his running mate that the villagers were left amazed by the connection. Harris’s grandfather PV Gopalan was born in 1911 in this village, located about eight hours from the state capital Chennai. He was 20 years old when he relocated to Chennai, where Harris’ mother Dr. Shyamala Gopalan Harris was born. Shyamala was just 19 when she emigrated to the U.S. to study—she got her doctorate from UC Berkeley and married Donald Harris in 1963 after meeting at a civil rights protest. After their divorce, Kamala and her sister Maya moved to Canada with their mother.
She is also the first African American to hold the office and the first American of Indian descent to be elected to the seat. In all, she has shattered many glass ceilings with this historic win. In her native village where her grandfather once lived, this has ignited a ray of hope.
Per Harris, her mother “raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage.” Shyamala, a cancer researcher and activist who died in 2009, would take her daughters to India to help them understand where they came from, and “of course, she always wanted to instill in us a love of good idli,” Harris once said (Idli is a South Indian savory dish made of rice).
During these visits, a young Harris would go on walks on Elliot’s Beach with her retired grandfather. PV Gopalan was a civil servant and a great inspiration to Harris. She has often talked about her grandfather and how his fight for India’s independence has instilled in her a deep respect for democracy. In an Instagram post, she shared, “When I was a young girl visiting my grandparents in India, I’d join my grandfather and his buddies on their morning walk along the beach as they would talk about the importance of fighting for democracy and civil rights. Those walks made me who I am today.”
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Her grandfather passed away in 1998, but her roots are firmly attached, something that people have echoed. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a nod to her Indian heritage with a tweet, which reads, “Heartiest congratulations @KamalaHarris! Your success is pathbreaking, and a matter of immense pride not just for your chittis, but also for all Indian-Americans. I am confident that the vibrant India-US ties will get even stronger with your support and leadership.”
Chittis means “aunts” in Tamil, and Harris had used the word in August in a power move for immigrants, during her nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.
Pride of the Village
No one in Thulasendrapuram is in contact with Harris or her family members and Gopalan’s house doesn’t exist anymore, but outside the local temple, her name is sculpted in stone, along with her grandfather’s, for a donation she made in 2014 (her Chennai-based aunt made a donation of $68 in her name after Harris became the Attorney General).
This win for Harris is a win for women in this small, nondescript village, too. A village counselor, Arulmozhi Sudhakar, told media outlets before the results, “We want her to win. Her achievements are a pride for India and particularly our village.” She celebrated Harris’ ascent to the second-highest office in the States with a message outside her house in colored powder, “Congratulations Kamala Harris Pride Of Our Village,” following Vanakkam America (“Greetings America”).
An elected member in Thulasendrapuram, Hemalatha Raja aspires to solve problems in her village, and reportedly told a newspaper, “All this talk about how someone with roots in our village is doing big things in America also encourages me to do a little extra.”
Locals are now waiting for the “daughter of the village” to take the oath in January, and they hope maybe someday she will visit this small village where she’s nothing less than a celebrity.