Kamala Harris Was Raised Mostly by Her Mother, but Her Father's Still Around

Kamala Harris has introduced herself to America, but many are still wondering what happened to her father after her parents divorced.


Aug. 20 2020, Updated 12:10 p.m. ET

In a speech delivered on Aug. 19, Kamala Harris introduced herself to the nation. As the vice-presidential nominee on the Democratic ticket, she spoke about her personal history, answering some of the questions people may have about her biography. For every question that was answered, though, there were others that were raised, including the role her father plays in her life. 

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Who is Kamala Harris's father?

Kamala was born to Donald Harris and Shyamala Gopalan. Donald and Shyamala met when they were both graduate students at Berkeley. They were both protesting on behalf of the civil rights movement. They were married in 1963, and Kamala was born just a year later. Their marriage didn't last all that long, though, and they were divorced in 1971. From that point on, Shyamala was the primary caregiver for Kamala and her younger sister. 

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Donald didn't disappear from their lives, though. After a hard-fought custody battle, he said that his love for his family remained intact. "Nevertheless, I persisted, never giving up on my love for my children or reneging on my responsibilities as their father," he wrote in a 2018 essay. Currently, he works as a professor emeritus at Stanford University, where he teaches economics. 

Kamala Harris visited Jamaica as a child.

Both Donald and Shyamala were immigrants, and Donald hailed from Jamaica. Throughout her childhood, Kamala and her sister would visit Jamaica frequently to visit his family that still lives there. 

"One of the most vivid and fondest memories I have of that early period with my children is of the visit we made in 1970 to Orange Hill," he wrote of one trip to his home country. 

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"We trudged through the cow dung and rusted iron gates, up-hill and down-hill, along narrow unkempt paths, to the very end of the family property, all in my eagerness to show to the girls the terrain over which I had wandered daily for hours as a boy," he concluded. Donald has been working as a member of the Stanford faculty since 1972, and in that time, he's frequently discussed the problems that his home nation has economically.  

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Kamala Harris was raised to acknowledge both her Jamaican and Indian roots.

In interviews, Kamala has often been reluctant to pin herself to a certain identity. She has said that her mother raised her and her sister to understand what it was like to be Black in America. At the same time, she also made sure they understood their Indian heritage, and the way that helped to forge their identity. Her Jamaican identity has already given many Americans who hail from the Caribbean a reason to celebrate. 

Kamala's father was critical of her on the campaign trail.

After she connected her Jamaican ancestry with smoking pot as a joke, Donald released a statement disapproving of his daughter's comments. 

"My dear departed grandmothers," he wrote, "as well as my deceased parents, must be turning in their grave right now to see their family’s name, reputation and proud Jamaican identity being connected, in any way, jokingly or not with the fraudulent stereotype of a pot-smoking joy seeker and in the pursuit of identity politics." 

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