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Kamala Harris mentions her ‘chithis’ in acceptance speech, family says no big deal

Kamala Harris' uncle Gopalan Balachandran says her nomination is a much bigger cause for celebration than a reference to her aunts ('chithis') and uncles during the speech.

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New Delhi: Senator Kamala Harris made history Wednesday night by becoming the first woman of colour and the first Asian-American to officially accept the vice presidential nomination for the 2020 US elections.

Harris also made history by speaking Tamil during her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention as she referred to her chithis (aunts), a gesture which is winning her a lot of love from Tamilians across the world.

“Family is my husband Doug, family is our beautiful children, Cole and Ella, who as you just heard, call me Momala. Family is my sister. Family is my best friend, my nieces and my godchildren. Family is my uncles, my aunts and my chithis,” Harris said.

For her family in India, however, Harris’ nomination was a much bigger cause of celebration than a reference to her chithis.

Harris’ uncle Gopalan Balachandran, a former consultant with Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, told ThePrint that her speech as a vice president nominee had far more important things than a mention about her uncles and aunts.

“American audiences don’t know the meaning of chithi, they would not even have noticed,” Balachandran said.

He also said Harris had mentioned about her uncles and aunts in Jamaica too. “Honestly, I or anyone would not have minded if she had not mentioned us. This was a moment bigger than us.”

ThePrint also reached her aunt Sarala Gopalan, a gynaecologist in Chennai, but she was not available for comment.

Apart from Gopalan, Harris has another aunt from her mother’s side, Mahalakshmi Subhash, who lives in Toronto. Balachandran said Harris had last visited her aunts around 2009-10.

Also read: Sabrina Singh, Kamala Harris’s press secretary who has worked on 2 US presidential campaigns

‘Tamil Nadu is in the House’

The mention of chithis has however sent many Tamilians across the world into a frenzy. Celebrity TV host and author Padma Lakshmi said she had tears in her eyes after Harris mentioned the word.

Several members of the Indian-American community similarly expressed joy for the recognition on an international platform.

Also read: Smoke-filled rooms to public events — growth & importance of US Presidential poll conventions

‘Proud of Indian heritage’

In her speech, Harris had also mentioned how she was raised to be proud of her Indian heritage. She spoke about the struggles of her mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris and how the vice-presidential candidate was always taught to put her family first.

“My mother raised us to be proud, strong Black women. And she raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage,” Harris said.

She added, “I accept your nomination for vice president of the United States of America. I do so, committed to the values she taught me…to a vision passed on through generations of Americans — one that Joe Biden shares. A vision of our nation as a beloved community — where all are welcome, no matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we love.”

Also read: Why India wants to claim Kamala Harris as her own


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