Kamala Harris Says She'll Be Thinking About Her Late Mother During Historic Swearing-In Moment

Harris will be sworn in as the first female vice president of the United States on Jan. 20

Kamala Harris, Shyamala Gopalan, Donald Harris
Shyamala Gopalan (left) and Kamala Harris. Photo: Kamala Harris/Facebook

There's one person who will be at the forefront of her mind when Kamala Harris makes history next month as the first woman to be sworn in as vice president of the United States.

In an interview Good Morning America on Wednesday, the vice-president-elect — who will also become the first Black person or person of Indian descent to hold the office — said she will "be thinking about [her] mother" on Inauguration Day.

"I'll be thinking about all those girls and boys," Harris, 56, told Robin Roberts. "You know, before the pandemic struck, fathers and the mothers that would bring them around and say, 'You know, you can do anything.' "

Of her own mom, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan, who died of cancer in 2009, Harris said, "I was raised by a mother who said to me all the time, 'Kamala, you may be the first to do many things — make sure you're not the last.' "

"That's how I feel about this moment," Harris said.

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Kamala Harris, Shyamala Gopalan, Donald Harris
Shyamala Gopalan (left), Kamala Harris. Kamala Harris/Facebook

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Harris was born in Oakland, California, in 1964, the daughter of immigrant parents. Her mother was a cancer researcher who came to the U.S. from India. Her economist father, Donald Harris, was born in Jamaica.

Growing up in California, Harris was exposed at an early age to both activism (her parents were active in the civil rights movement) as well as the challenges of navigating racism.

The California senator has also credited her mother — described in an obituary as "a commanding presence characterized by a sharp wit, keen sense of humor and endless depth of knowledge" — for raising her to be proud of her identity.

"My mother understood very well that she was raising two Black daughters," Harris wrote in her 2019 memoir, The Truths We Hold. "She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as Black girls, and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud Black women."

kamala harris
Kamala Harris with mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris and sister Maya Harris. Kamala Harris/Instagram

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In her Wednesday interview with GMA, Harris said she feels "a very big sense of responsibility" in her upcoming new role, adding that her husband, Doug Emhoff (who will become the first-ever second gentleman) does, as well.

"He's aware that we still have so much work to do to remind our children of every gender that they should not be confined by the limited perception that some might have of who they are and what they can be," she said.

Harris also reacted to a recent controversial Wall Street Journal op-ed that criticized incoming First Lady Jill Biden's "Dr." title because her doctorate is not in medicine — "When there's anyone who tries to diminish the significance of people who work hard, I think it's just not the American way, frankly."

As for how she would define success over the next four years, Harris told Roberts, 60, that it would go hand in hand with the success of President-elect Joe Biden.

"Joe and I were elected to do a job, which is to build back better and to fight for the best of who we are as a nation," she said. "And he and I as partners, if we are able to do that together, I think our country will be the better for it."

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