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Updated: November 29, 2010 15:17 IST

California's next A-G, city's pride

Ajai Sreevatsan
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California Attorney General-elect Kamala Devi Harris (right) with her mother Shyamala Gopalan (left) and aunt Sarala Gopalan in a family picture taken when she was the San Francisco District Attorney in 2005.
Photo: Special Arrangement California Attorney General-elect Kamala Devi Harris (right) with her mother Shyamala Gopalan (left) and aunt Sarala Gopalan in a family picture taken when she was the San Francisco District Attorney in 2005.

Her aunt recalls Kamala Devi Harris always wanted to go out and do a few things

When Kamala Devi Harris (46) became the first woman and first non-white candidate to win a closely contested election for the post of California's Attorney-General on Thursday, she sent a brief email to many of her close relatives back in India: “Finally, I made it.”

Ms. Harris will be taking over as California's top law enforcement officer on January 1, 2011, and her family members here in India are ecstatic.

Sarala Gopalan, Kamala's aunt and former head of the Department of Gynaecology at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education (Chandigarh), said, “This being Thanksgiving week, she has been very busy and hasn't called anyone yet. But, all through the close election race, every vote in every county was being followed by nervous family members in India.” Ms. Harris, born and raised in the East Bay, is the daughter of a Jamaican American and a Tamilian breast cancer specialist, Shyamala Gopalan, who travelled to the U.S. from Chennai, to pursue her graduate studies at UC Berkeley.

Dr. Sarala Gopalan said that Ms. Harris's greatest regret at this moment of achievement would be the fact that her mother is no longer with her. Shyamala passed away last year.

Recalling Ms. Harris' childhood when she used to frequently visit her grandfather's house in Besant Nagar, her aunt said, “Even as a child, she was very kind. She could not bear to see anyone cry. She always wanted to go out there and do a few things.”

Ms. Harris retained the close bond with her grandfather, often writing long letters to him about cases, especially involving Indians, when she became an attorney.

Her multi-cultural roots were a huge advantage, says her aunt, as she was hugely popular among the Chinese and Hispanics.

G. Balachandran, her uncle who resides in New Delhi, said that her election victory is also a sign of Indian Americans, who have for long held public offices, becoming more assertive and entering the political sphere. “As Attorney-General, she will wield a lot of influence and would be able to push forward an inclusive agenda,” he added.

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