POLITICS

Two Indian American Women Elected To The U.S. House Of Congress For The First Time Ever

Breaking multiple barriers.

09/11/2016 5:30 PM IST | Updated 09/11/2016 7:17 PM IST
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While most of us were transfixed by the stunning conclusion of the U.S. presidential election, which saw Donald Trump becoming leader of the free world, history of a whole other kind was being made at two low-key Congressional races in California and Washington.

Fifty-two year Kamala Harris, currently California's Attorney General, became the first ever Indian American elected to the U.S. Senate, and Pramila Jayapal, currently a Democratic state senator, has become the first Indian-American woman elected to U.S. House of Representatives.

Jayapal, who moved from India to the U.S. at the age of sixteen, will represent Washington's 7th District which encompasses most of Seattle and its surrounding communities. She was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders.

For over a decade, Jayapal has worked against the discrimination and hate crimes against Arab, Muslim and South Asian Americans, which were unleashed by 9/11. "Thank you for standing up for the values that welcomed me as a 16-year-old immigrant...," she tweeted after winning.

A handful of Indian-Americans from the three million strong community have served in high offices of government including former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. Only three Indians have previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives including Jindal before he became governor.

If Democrat Amit Bera from the 7th district on California, the only Indian-American representative currently serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, wins his third term then he would be the longest serving Indian-American in the federal body.

Breaking Multiple Barriers

Not only is Harris the first ever Indian American elected to the U.S. Senate, she is also the first African-American senator from California. Harris is only the second black woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate. She is also the first black woman elected to the federal body in the past two decades.

How is 52-year-old Harris both Indian-American and African-American, you ask. Well, she is the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants. Her Indian mother, Shyamala, who moved from India to the U.S., married Donald, a Jamaican American of African descent. They were both graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley. Her mother studied science, specifically endocrinology and the complex mechanisms of cancer, and her father studied economics.

Harris, who is currently California's Attorney General, was born in Oakland in 1964. After completing school in Oakland, she received her bachelor of arts degree from Howard University in Washington, and her law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

"My parents were both graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley. I grew up with a stroller's-eye view of the civil rights movement, and often I joke that as a child I was surrounded by adults marching and shouting for this thing called justice," she wrote on her campaign website.

Both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden backed Harris, who defeated fellow Democrat, Loretta Sanchez, by more that a million vote. In July, Sanchez, who would have become the first Latina to serve in the U.S. Senate if she had won, had implied that Obama was supporting Harris because they are both black.

Harris has a record of breaking glass ceilings. She was the first woman elected as San Francisco's district attorney and the first woman elected as California's attorney general. Her mother, she has previously said, told her: "You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you're not the last."

When Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election became inevitable earlier today, she said, "When we have been attacked and when our ideals and fundamental ideals are being attacked, do we retreat or do we fight? I say we fight!"

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