HomeAsian AmericansAAPI Women See Themselves in Kamala Harris

AAPI Women See Themselves in Kamala Harris

Screenshot of AAPI women organizers working on voter outreach for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.

by Akemi Tamanaha, Associate Editor

When Bianca Jyotishi was a young girl, she and her sister were ridiculed for the Indian food they brought to school. The ridicule even radiated off teachers whose classrooms Jyotishi and her sister would often eat in.

“I remember days I wouldn’t even eat because I didn’t want to be ridiculed for bringing Indian food with me to school,” Jyotishi said.

Today’s inauguration of Vice President Kamala Harris marks a historic moment for AAPI women. For the first time, they will see someone like them taking the seat as the second in command of the United States.  

“We were called curry or smelly and now we get to see Kamala Harris eating dosas and becoming the first woman of color to be vice president,” Jyotishi said. “It is just groundbreaking.”

Jyotishi is now the Georgia organizing manager for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, which empowers AAPI women and girls to become a force for change. She noted that her upbringing was similar to Harris’ upbringing. Like Harris’ mother, Jyotishi is the daughter of Indian immigrants who moved to the United States in the 1970s. And like Harris’ parents, Jyotishi’s parents divorced at a young age, which ostracized them from their South Asian community.

“As I grew up, it was really just me and my sister and our single mom against the world,” she said. 

Jyotishi won’t be the only AAPI woman cheering Harris on today. AAPI voters, celebrities, activists and politicians have been expressing their delight for Harris even before the results of the election.

“As an Asian American and the daughter of immigrants myself, I know that VP Kamala Harris will open the door for so many AAPI, brown, and Black girls across the country,” Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) wrote on Twitter when Harris was announced as Joe Biden’s running mate.

To then watch Harris win the election alongside Biden meant even more.

“It’s so meaningful I can’t take the smile off of my face,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) told MSNBC in an interview after the election was officially called for Biden. “When those kids across the country look up and see a Black woman, a South Asian American woman as Vice President of the United States, they see their futures differently.”

Harris’ inauguration encapsulates a number of firsts for America: the first female Vice President, the first AAPI woman Vice President, the first Black woman Vice President.

But others feel that the media has not properly acknowledged the intersection of Vice President Harris’ racial and gender identities. Paula Madison, a journalist and former NBC executive, says she is happy that the media is highlighting “the totality of who Kamala Harris is.” However, she feels that more emphasis has been put on her racial identity rather than her gender identity.

Madison, who is a Black and Chinese American woman, believes the media is downplaying this historic moment for women because Harris is a woman of color.

“I think the news media will highlight the election of a woman to the role of president or vice president when that woman is a white woman,” Madison said.

Madison plans on celebrating the totality of who Kamala Harris is and what she means for our democracy.

“My tears of joy will include not only the pride I have by seeing a Black woman, an Indian woman, a Jamaican woman, an Asian American woman take that oath of office,” Madison said. “But I’m also thrilled because I know science and logic will come to the forefront. Hopefully we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”

AAPI women across the country echo Madison’s feeling of hope.

“We’re hopeful,” Jyotishi said of the AAPI communities she works with. “Our people are really hopeful that this year will bring a better response to the coronavirus, which will impact a multitude of other issues our communities are facing right now.”

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