Kamala Harris: A Historic Vice President Decision for AAPIs
What this vice presidential moment has in store for Asian Americans
On Wednesday this week, Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris, California Senator and former presidential contender, as his vice presidential running mate. Here are three important takeaways this decision has for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
#1 — A Voice for “The Silent Minority”
Despite being the fastest growing ethnic group in the country (139% increase over 20 years), Asian Americans have long been sidelined from the political process, displaying lower participation rates than other minorities. As a result, they have often been dubbed the “Silent Minority” creating the pernicious misconception that the group is apathetic to politics by nature — a stereotype that is not only misguided but self-fulfilling.
The elevation of Harris to this year’s Democratic ticket not only shatters this harmful illusion, it also represents what the future of the Democratic Party might look like with Asians as a “vocal” minority. As the daughter of an Indian mother, Harris is the antithesis of the “silent minority” stereotype. She was the first woman, and first Asian American to serve as California’s top law enforcement official. She continued her streak on the federal level, becoming the first Indian American ever elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016. Her selection to become the vice presidential nominee will make her the first Asian American to appear on a national ticket.
#2 — An Energized, Multiracial Democratic Coalition
Senator Harris’ nomination marks another milestone in American politics. As a leading proponent of civil rights and a daughter of a black immigrant, Harris would also be the first African American women to be elected to the office of the Vice President. This comes at a timely moment: the world is currently in the midst of a racial reckoning following the death of George Floyd, one that has sparked an international movement on safeguarding the rights and dignity of black lives.
Together, Harris’ political record and personal experience brings with it the possibility of unifying both the black and AAPI wings of the Democratic Party at a moment when American politics is as fractured as ever. The black and AAPI communities have not always seen eye-to-eye on issues in the past (see, for example, instances of inter-minority racism and affirmative action in elite education). Harris’ nomination, however, serves to push the Democratic party toward a multiracial coalition with significant consequences for progressive policies in housing, healthcare, education, and employment — issues that are of interest to all communities of color.
#3—A Defender of Asian American Rights and Dignity
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, anti-asian rhetoric has skyrocketed. The Trump administration’s aggressive posture on China has also increased the number of hate crimes against the AAPI community.
Throughout her tenure in the Senate, Harris is among the only politicians to have put forth legislation directly addressing racism and inequality toward the Asian American community. She has devoted her entire career to improving the lives of the AAPI community from introducing legislation against anti-asian hate amidst covid-19 in May, to knocking down language barriers for Asian Americans to access public goods, to symbolic gestures such as a resolution to recognize “Korean American Day”. Even as California Attorney General, she had fought on the side of racial justice, leading investigations into racially motivated police killings.
Harris has always worked to improve the lives of the AAPI community specifically and the racial inequities of American more broadly. There is every expectation that she will continue to do so were she to be elected into office.
A Truly American Story
In their first introduction as running mates, Biden referred to Kamala’s story as “America’s story.” Indeed, since its inception, America has been forged by the work and dreams of immigrants, and the successes that they and their offspring shared. In this way, Harris’ story is a powerful rebuke of the nativist, anti-immigrant rhetoric that emanates from the White House, a pattern that has demeaned and endangered the lives of Asian Americans and all minorities.
Electing Biden and Harris would send a message that no glass ceiling is too high for Asian Americans to break. The Biden-Harris ticket is an American ticket — a gateway to an inclusive, diverse, and open America ready to compete in a new, post-pandemic world. The prospect of finally having a voice, and a champion for AAPIs at the highest rungs of American government, may just be the deciding factor in sending Biden and Harris into the White House.