Kamala Harris and the ‘Other 1 Percent’
In a few weeks, the United States might elect its first vice president of Indian heritage. Kamala Harris’s rise mirrors the fortunes of Indian Americans, a wildly successful community whose high levels of education and income have led to it being dubbed “the other 1 percent.”
Harris’s name on the ballot, combined with President Donald Trump’s strong relations with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have put Indian Americans—a much smaller contingent than other prominent minority groups—in the spotlight this year, and both Republicans and Democrats are vying for their votes. It is tempting, then, to think that this rise to prominence has been sharp and sudden.
In fact, Indian American political influence has deep historical roots. Well before the first wave of mass Indian immigration in the 1960s, the U.S. played a significant role in India’s independence movement against British colonial rule. For colonized Indians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the U.S. represented a compelling alternative of democracy and relative equality (they quickly realized that this did not extend to African Americans). Several Indian political leaders such as B. R. Ambedkar and J. P. Narayan studied in American universities or embarked on prolonged visits. Many Americans, meanwhile, sympathized with India’s anti-colonial movement and saw parallels with their own republic’s struggle for existence.