Who Are Kamala Harris's Parents? Everything To Know About Donald And Shyamala Gopalan Harris

Not just anyone is capable of raising a Vice President.

kamala harris in front of american flag getty

There was a lot of build-up to the 2020 election, but on January 20, 2021, Kamala Harris became the first Black and South Asian woman to serve has Vice President of the United States. 

Obviously, this is a huge deal, and the internet is buzzing with excitement. She might be best known for being a senator or her work as a former lawyer, but what about her personal life and her childhood? 

Who are Kamala Harris's parents, Shyamala Gopalan Harris and Donald Harris?


RELATED: Who Is Kamala Harris's Niece, Meena Harris?

Kamala Harris's parents were both immigrants who met in college. 

Originally hailing from Oakland, California, Harris was born to Shyamala Gopalan Harris and Donald Harris.

Harris's mother came from India, while her father came from Jamaica, and they met when they were both graduate students at UC Berkeley. Harris's mother earned a PhD in nutrition and endocrinology in 1964.


They met while getting involved in activism on campus and got married before they graduated, later joining the civil rights movement to fight for racial equality.

In Harris's autobiography, "The Truths We Hold," the Madam Vice President wrote that her mother's marriage and decision to stay in the United States "were the ultimate acts of self-determination and love."

Kamala wrote on Instagram that it was because of her parent's activism in the civil rights movement that she is where she is today, saying, "They laid the path for me, as only the second Black woman ever elected to the United States Senate."

Her parents even took Kamala to the civil rights marches as a young toddler where Kamala said that she wanted "FEE-DOM" after her mom asked what she wants. 


Kamala Harris's grandparents were activists and inspirations for Kamala.

Kamala's grandparents had just as much of an influence on Kamala as her parents. Shyamala's mother and Kamala's grandmother, Rajam, was also an activist and participated in the women's rights movement.

Shyamala's father, Kamala's grandfather, was an Indian diplomat and a defender of freedom in India who often discussed the importance of fighting for civil rights and democracy with young Kamala.

Her time with her grandparents and conversations about civil rights and democracy helped create a commitment that Kamala has stuck to in her work as a Senator and now a Vice President. 

Kamala’s parents divorced when she was young. 

After having their first two children, Kamala and Maya Harris, Donald and Shyamala filed for divorce in 1972, when Kamala was only seven years old


Shyamala was able to raise her children in California, and Donald worked at the University of Wisconsin in a tenured teaching position. 

Kamala mentioned in her novel that they had "seemed like they had become like oil and water," and that they were too young as Donald was Shyamala's first boyfriend and husband.

Unfortunately for Donald, he had to deal with a "hard-fought custody battle in the family court of Oakland, California," according to his essay for Jamaica Global Online. However, he never stopped loving or giving up on his children.

Kamala's mother never intended to stay in the U.S.

In 2003, Shyamala told San Francisco Weekly that during Kamala's bid for San Francisco district attorney, she only came to study at UC Berkely and go back to India when she was graduated.


"I never came to stay. It's the old story: I fell in love with a guy, we got married, pretty soon kids came," she revealed.

Harris was raised by a single mother.

Unfortunately, Shyamala and Donald's marriage wasn't meant to be.

By the time Harris was seven years old in 1971, the couple split, with Shyamala getting custody of Harris and her sister, Maya, while their father took a job out of state. 

RELATED: 40 Inspirational Kamala Harris Quotes That Empower Us To Believe Anything Is Possible


Shyamala Gopalan Harris was a breast cancer researcher. 

While raising Kamala and Maya, Shyamala worked in academia as a breast cancer researcher, and her obituary painted her as an incredibly impressive woman, focused on being a mother until her death in 2009. 

"She embodied an independent, confident and curious spirit that led her to travel alone to the U.S. as a teen; forge a career as a brilliant breast cancer researcher; join the Civil Rights Movement; introduce a generation of students of color to careers in science; and, through it all, raise two remarkable young women, by herself," her obituary said..

In a New York Times opinion piece that Kamala wrote, she mentioned, "It was one of the worst days of my life," when she found out from her mother in 2008 that her mother was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Kamala explained, "Though I miss her every day, I carry her with me wherever I go. I think of the battles she fought, the values she taught me... There is no title or honor on earth I’ll treasure more than to say I am Shyamala Gopalan Harris’s daughter."


Harris's mother is her inspiration. 



A post shared by Kamala Harris (@kamalaharris) on Jul 9, 2019 at 2:17pm PDT

In an Instagram post she shared in 2019, Harris revealed that her mother was her inspiration behind running for president.

"My sister Maya and I were raised by a strong mother.⁣ My mother taught us the importance of a good education. ⁣She taught us the good old-fashioned value of hard work," she wrote.


"She taught us don’t let anyone tell you who you are. You tell them who you are. ⁣She taught us not only to dream but to do. ⁣She taught us to believe in our power to right what is wrong. ⁣And she was the kind of parent who if you came home complaining about something, she’d say, 'Well what are you gonna do about it?' So I decided to run for President of the United States."

Donald Harris is a professor.

Harris's father, Donald, was an economics professor at Stanford University from 1972 until his retirement in 1998.

Since then, he's worked as an economist and famously said that he "dissociated" himself from his daughter when she joked about smoking pot in 2019 because of her Jamaican heritage on his side. 

Unfortunately, Harris doesn't seem as close with her father. When she talks about her family (or posts about them on Instagram), she mostly speaks about her sister and her mom, so it seems that's who she is closest to.


Harris posted a touching video on Instagram that served as a tribute to her mother.

It seems like her relationship with her mother has definitely inspired her career and will continue to inspire her to do great things. And in an Instagram post from January 20 — Inauguration Day — Harris confirmed that her mother served as her inspiration for her entire life.

"To the woman most responsible for my presence here today: my mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris: who is always in our hearts," the video starts, as a montage of images from Harris's childhood and images of her with her mother play in the video.

"When she came here from India at the age of 19, she maybe didn't quite imagine this moment. But she believed so deeply in an America, where a moment like this is possible. And so I'm thinking about her, and about the generations of women, Black women, Asian women, white, Latina, Native American women, who throughout our nation's history, have paved the way for this moment."

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Nicole Pomarico is an entertainment and lifestyle writer whose work has appeared in Cosmo, Us Weekly, Refinery29, and more.