Oakland, California; Urbana Champaign, Illinois; Berkeley, Quebec, Canada; Washington, D.C, California once again, and now the White House.
When Kamala Harris finally pitches tent in the country’s most powerful political office, it will be the culmination of long road trips and wild rides from coast to coast in America and a significant sojourn in Canada, a stint that the US Vice President prefers to relegate mostly to a footnote.
“I was 12 years old, and the thought of moving away from sunny California in February, in the middle of the school year, to a French-speaking foreign city covered in 12 feet of snow was distressing,” Harris writes in her memoir “The Truths We Hold”.
Harris’ arrival as America’s first ever woman Vice President is a story of wheels whirring, pausing, and setting off in new directions. First, her parents came in search of academic achievement and then Harris took the scenic route in search of her political north star.
“A very vivid memory of my childhood was the Mayflower truck,” she told journalist Dana Goodyear during a 2019 interview. Mayflower is one of the largest full-service moving companies in America and handles long-distance moves within the U.S. and internationally.
“We moved a lot,” Harris told Goodyear.
But Harris’ shuttling between American cities almost pales before the travels of a journey-woman who came before her: Shyamala Gopalan.
When Gopalan came to America in Fall 1958, she was all of 19 and the first in her immediate family to ever travel overseas to study at “a university she’d never seen, in a country she’d never visited”, as Harris explains in her 2019 memoir.
Gopalan spent months doggedly chasing a scholarship that would clinch the deal for her. At the time, British rule in India had ended barely a decade ago.
Donald Harris made a similar journey, a couple of years after Shyamala Gopalan did. The couple met in 1961, married in 1963 and through it all, their activist spirit was such that they were constantly on the move, even locally.
Kamala Harris alludes to this in her book and in her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention and possibly in many speeches yet to come.
As she explains it, even her parents’ growing affection for each other is framed against an idea gathering momentum. “They fell in love in that most American way, while marching together for justice in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.”
So too Kamala’s initiation into ferment in the public square that later bloomed into her own political candidacy: “In the streets of Oakland and Berkeley, I got a stroller’s-eye view of people getting into what the great John Lewis called ‘good trouble’,” she said while accepting her nomination on the Joe Biden ticket in August 2020.
For most part, Kamala Harris’ story has been that of an inveterate traveller, most often pictured with a Goyard tote.
When her motorcade rolls into the view on January 20, it will be the ultimate tribute to two other audacious voyages that began in Madras (now Chennai) and Brown’s Town, Jamaica, about 60 years ago.