2020 presidential candidate Kamala Harris orig_00015606.jpg
Voters never gave Kamala Harris the chance to prosecute Trump
12:42 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Neil Makhija is the executive director of IMPACT, a civic organization that helps recruit, train, and elect Indian Americans at all levels of government. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion articles on CNN.

CNN  — 

Any day now, millions of phones will buzz with a breaking news alert informing us that Joe Biden has selected his running mate. With President Donald Trump hoping to eke out reelection by relying on a motivated minority of white voters, Biden should select someone who can help him bring together a racially diverse Democratic coalition that represents the future of the country.

Neil Makhija

That person is Kamala Harris.

Harris’s story is the story of a changing, inclusive America. She was born to a Black father and an Indian mother. Her parents were both immigrants: her father, Donald Harris, from Jamaica, and her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, from Chennai, in southeastern India. She’s one of three Black US senators, one of only three Asian Americans in the Senate, and she’s the first Indian American ever to serve in the chamber.

Her vice-presidential candidacy would be historic and inspiring, not only for Black Americans, but for millions of voters of South Asian descent – like me.

Sen. Harris, whose first name is derived from Indian mythology, knows the deeper meaning of the Indian immigrant experience in America.

The academic Vijay Prashad refers to Indian immigrants like Harris’ mother as the “twice blessed” generation because their life trajectories were shaped by two movements: first, the struggle for Indian independence, and, second, the civil rights movement, which produced the 1965 Immigration Act (the term was coined in Anita Raghavan’s 2013 book, “The Billionaire’s Apprentice”). That sweeping reform removed restrictions on immigration to the United States from places like India and would not have happened if not for the activism of Black leaders.

Indian Americans are one of the great mobility stories of the 20th century. Those who came to the country in the years after restrictions were eased, worked hard, sought education, and succeeded professionally. But they and their families still faced bigotry and exclusion.

I know this firsthand: I grew up in an Indian family in Pennsylvania’s coal country, the son of an obstetrician. I was just as likely to be treated warmly for my dad’s stature in our small town as I was to be told to “go back to where you came from.” I saw early on that immigrants are often rewarded when they serve narrow roles but treated with skepticism when they aspire to leadership.

A Biden-Harris ticket would send a message that no door is closed to Indian Americans in public life, at a time when we’re beginning to flex our political muscle. Asian Americans, more broadly, are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic voting bloc in the country. Around 1.3 million Indian Americans are expected to vote in this year’s election, with nearly 200,000 in battleground states like Pennsylvania and 125,000 in Michigan, according to the research firm CRW Strategy. Indian Americans register and vote at high rates, even though we remain underrepresented in elected office.

In 2016, 77% of Indian Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, according to stats by the same research firm. But Democrat support in 2020 is not assured. Trump has built an alliance with the populist and Hindu nationalist Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the pair have appeared together at packed rallies in both Houston, Texas and Ahmedabad, India. The Trump reelection campaign has been running social media ads seeking to win over Indian voters, praising Indian Americans as business and technology leaders and touting Trump’s tax cuts.

The Trump-Modi fans in Houston may not represent me or the bulk of Indian American or South Asian voters – and selecting Harris would signal that the Democrats are not going to cede this ground. When I think of my community’s politics, I think not of those who filled the Houston stadium but of Ruhel Islam, an immigrant from Bangladesh. His Minneapolis restaurant, Gandhi Mahal, was burned during the George Floyd protests there. Still, Islam supported the protesters. “Let my building burn,” he said. “Justice needs to be served.”

Gandhi Mahal was, of course, named for Mahatma Gandhi, the father of Indian independence. Gandhi’s discipline of nonviolence influenced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who in 1959 took a five-week tour of India that deepened his commitment to nonviolent resistance in the struggle for civil rights. Four years later, in his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” King wrote: “(We) are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

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    At a time when our nation is fighting for its soul, when thousands are protesting in streets nationwide, when we are recognizing King’s “single garment of destiny,” when we are engaged, motivated, and ready to be inspired, Joe Biden needs a running mate who can tie all of our threads together.

    Harris knows the Black American experience. She knows the South Asian American experience. She knows the immigrant experience. She knows the aspirational power of the American dream. She is the running mate for this moment.