When Oakland, California native Kamala Harris made history as the first female United States vice president, East Bay residents felt a deep measure of hometown pride. Born in Oakland to immigrant parents who divorced when she was young (her father was from Jamaica and her mother from India), she lived with her younger sister, Maya, and mom, Shyamala, in Berkeley before the trio relocated to Montreal when Harris was 12. After earning her law degree at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, Harris made a name for herself in California politics before moving on to the national stage—first as a senator, then as a presidential candidate, and finally as the first female and woman of color to serve as our country’s vice president. Here, our friends at East Bay-based Diablo share some of the reasons that our new VP is a hometown all-star.
1. She has a long record of firsts
At age 56, Harris is not only the first woman elected to the vice presidency, but also the first Black and South Asian woman to hold the title. Among her other political firsts? She was California’s first Black and South Asian female attorney general and became just the second Black woman and the first South Asian woman to enter the U.S. Senate when she was elected in 2016. Harris’s husband, entertainment lawyer Douglas Emhoff, also earns a place in the history books as the inaugural second gentleman.
2. She has an amazing family
Harris’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was a leading breast cancer researcher who worked at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, among other institutions, before her death in 2009. Her father, Donald, was a longtime economics professor at Stanford University. Harris’s sister, Maya, is also a lawyer, and she served as a senior policy advisor for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Maya’s daughter, Meena, founded the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign and has written two children’s books (Ambitious Girl and Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea). Harris is also “Momala” to Emhoff’s two children from his first marriage; one of whom, Ella, won instant fashionista status thanks to her striking looks at inauguration events and made her runway debut at New York Fashion Week in February.
3. She’s got her own sense of style
From her signature Chuck Taylor sneakers to sharp pantsuits, Harris knows how to make a style statement. The chic white Carolina Herrera suit she wore during her acceptance speech in November nodded to the women’s suffrage movement—and looked great onstage. During the inauguration festivities in January, she wore sleek pieces from Black designers Sergio Hudson and Christopher John Rogers. And who can forget that rainbow flag jacket that the then-presidential candidate wore during the San Francisco Pride parade in 2019?
4. She got her start looking out for the children of the East Bay
Harris began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office—working there from 1990 to 1998—and specialized in prosecuting child sexual assault cases. That commitment to young people continued when she established the Bureau of Children’s Justice in 2015 as California’s attorney general.
5. She is an accomplished author
In addition to penning two books (Smart on Crime and The Truths We Hold), Harris wrote an empowering story for kids called Superheroes Are Everywhere. The 2019 illustrated work details her own search for superheroes and the realization that brave and great deeds are performed by everyday people.
6. She helps lift up her female contemporaries while celebrating those who have come before her
Harris lives by a piece of advice from her mother: “You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last.” During her acceptance speech for the vice presidential nomination, she recognized other women’s achievements throughout history: “I reflect on their struggle, their determination, and the strength of their vision to see what can be, unburdened by what has been. And I stand on their shoulders.”
7. She’s rooted in the East Bay
Harris called out her birth at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland during that same speech, and has referenced her experience being bussed to Thousand Oaks Elementary School in Berkeley (she is included in a mural depicting notable women at the school). Harris even came back to her birthplace in 2019 to kick off her presidential run at Oakland’s Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. Said friend and Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf, “Nobody fights like Kamala. No one gets to the truth … drills down like she does. I just could not be more thrilled and proud because she’s from Oakland.”