Kamala Harris Cracked the Glass Ceiling For Indian-American Teens


In this op-ed, Mira Patel explains what Vice President-elect Kamala Harris means for Indian-American teens like her.

As a child, my favorite part of dinnertime was the chance to stare at my “Presidents Placemat.” Running my finger over the list of forty-four Presidents and flipping the laminated sheet to peer at the list of Vice Presidents, I attempted to imagine what it took to be the leader of my country. But at age nine, my sense of patriotism was dimmed by my identity crisis. Looking at the placemat, I was drowned in a sea of white men. That was all I knew because it was all I could see. I questioned whether there would ever be a place for my picture.

On November 7, 2020, not only did I celebrate my 18th birthday, I joined many in welcoming the new President and Vice President-elect. As cities across the country came together to celebrate President Donald Trump’s defeat, the day was bittersweet for me. Nine years had passed since I was that little girl questioning what I could accomplish solely on the basis of my identity and what I look like. It felt surreal watching Kamala Harris, dressed in all white, give her acceptance speech. I’ve taken neither her nomination nor its historic significance lightly, but even as I watched her walk across that stage, I couldn’t help but think about the work we still have to do. This win took so long, and it’s just the beginning.

In the words of Indian-American television host Padma Lakshmi “Representation matters. The importance of having someone in the White House who looks like you cannot be overstated.” I’ve long wondered how my perception of the world would be different if I saw an Indian-American woman on my placemat when I was younger. In Harris’s acceptance speech, she explains how her immigrant mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris’s values have shaped her mantra: “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”

I believe that there is an unbelievable amount of untapped potential in the first and second generation teenage girls who have long been discouraged by leadership that does not look like them. Through representation like this, our struggles are recognized and our strides are better appreciated: This confidence we gain inspires us to play our part in changing the world. Harris reminds those of us who come from different cultures that our perspectives are an asset. When I was younger, when asked about my dream job, I always responded that I wanted to be the President of the United States. It’s always sounded like a far off pipe dream. Not anymore.

To me, this election is proof of an evolving America. An America that will continue to elect children of immigrants, people of color, and women who are representative of our melting pot. Harris’s nomination has not only armed me with the courage to go forth and be the first to do many things, but it has also strengthened my commitment to making sure that I won’t be the last. I commend her strength and boldness, and the way that she pridefully recognizes where and who she came from makes me extra appreciative of my mother and grandmother. In her speech she encourages others to “dream with ambition and lead with conviction.” Leaders like her make that possible for young girls like myself. If I, my younger sister, or any other young woman, choose to pursue a career in politics, we won’t have to try as hard to imagine what our faces would like on that placemat. As for now, Harris’s response to Mike Pence in their debate —“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking”—has inspired me to finish what I have to say.





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