'Euphoria': Residents Of Harris' Ancestral Village In India Celebrate Her Win

Nov 8, 2020
Originally published on November 9, 2020 9:21 am

Firecrackers erupted Sunday in a tiny village surrounded by lush green rice paddies in southern India, where Kamala Harris' maternal grandfather was born. Residents wrote in colorful rangoli powder on a dirt lane in front of their homes: "Congratulations Kamala Harris. Pride of our village."

Harris will be the first Asian American elected vice president in the United States, in addition to becoming the first Black vice president and the first female vice president. Harris was born in California. Her late mother was born in India, and her father is from Jamaica.

While India's prime minister tweeted his "heartiest congratulations" to Harris after midnight local time, most Indians, because of the time difference, got the news of a Biden-Harris victory when they woke up Sunday.

"We feel a sense of euphoria! Very happy, very excited, very proud," says S.V. Ramanan, caretaker of the Hindu temple in Harris' ancestral village of Thulasendrapuram, in India's southeastern Tamil Nadu state.

"I hope this scene reaches Kamala. She should know we're here celebrating her," Ramanan told NPR by phone after offering prayers of thanks in the temple. Last week, villagers also held a prayer ceremony on Election Day, for a Biden-Harris victory.

Home to just a few hundred people, mostly subsistence farmers, the village of Thulasendrapuram has suddenly embraced Harris as their native daughter, even though her ancestors moved away decades ago. On Sunday, residents handed out sweets, set off firecrackers and waved posters of Harris, the first person of Indian descent to be elected U.S. vice president.

Ramanan said he hopes Harris might visit the village after her inauguration. If she does, he'll kindly request better broadband internet, and some road maintenance, he said.

"Other than that, we live a contented life," Ramanan said. "Of course we don't know her plans. Only time will tell."

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LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: And I'm Lauren Frayer, NPR's India correspondent. Kamala Harris will not only be the first Black and first female vice president in U.S. history; she's also the first person of Asian descent to be elected to that office. Her late mother was from India. And so Harris' election has set off celebrations on two continents.


FRAYER: Sparklers and flares lit up a tiny village in South India, where Kamala Harris' maternal grandfather was born. Residents handed out sweets, waved posters of Harris and wrote in rangoli, colorful powder, on a dirt lane in front of their homes - congratulations, Kamala Harris, pride of our village.

ARULMOZHI SUDHAKAR: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: "We're so happy," says a town councilwoman, Arulmozhi Sudhakar. "We were ready to celebrate last week but had to hold off until we were finally sure she had won." Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his heartiest congratulations. He called Harris' success pathbreaking and a matter of pride not just for her chittis - a South Indian word for aunties - but also, he said, for Indian Americans. Harris paid tribute to her Indian-born mother, who died in 2009, in her victory speech Saturday night.


KAMALA HARRIS: And to the woman most responsible for my presence here today, my mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who is always in our hearts.


FRAYER: As the crowd in Delaware erupted, honking their horns, Twitter erupted in appreciation for Indian mothers.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language).

FRAYER: This is a video Vibhor Mathur, an Indian American writer in LA, tweeted of his mother, Rattu, at her home in Vancouver. Mathur called his mom just as Harris was named vice president-elect, and his mom started dancing on FaceTime.

VIBHOR MATHUR: Because, you know, it was just really wonderful to see somebody deep-rooted in similar shared experiences - the food that you grew up on, the spices in the kitchen, the culture, the discipline of growing up as a first-generation or second-generation immigrant in the United States.

FRAYER: The Indian American writer and comedian Mindy Kaling tweeted that she's been crying and holding her newborn daughter - saying, look, baby, she looks like us. In addition to Harris, all four Indian American members of Congress were reelected last week. Many in the community are calling this an early gift for the holiday of Diwali. The Indian festival of lights begins this weekend.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News.