Who Was Shyamala Gopalan, Kamala Harris’ Mother & Leading Researcher?

Kamala Harris, the vice president-elect, has spoken about how having two immigrant parents impacted her own political values. In particular, she has spoken about her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a Tamil Indian-American who became a leading cancer researcher and activist and passed away from colon cancer in 2009. From her name—Shyamala gave her and her sister Maya Sanskrit names to connect their heritage with their identities—to Kamala’s focus on immigration and equal rights, Shyamala had, and continues to have, a profound influence and lasting legacy on her high-flying daughter.

As the first Black female vice president, Kalama makes history, a victory and emblem of hope for our nation. Her mother would have been more than proud: “My mother understood very well she was raising two black daughters,” she wrote in her 2018 autobiography, 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 black women.”

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