Kamala Harris has announced that she is running for president in 2020. She declared her candidacy on January 21, 2019, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Harris has been a Democratic member of the Senate representing California since 2017. She was elected after serving as California’s Attorney General for six years.
Her growing national profile has raised interest about her family and background.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Kamala Harris Has Been Married to Douglas Emhoff Since 2014
Kamala Harris met fellow attorney Douglas Emhoff in 2013. They were set up on a blind date by one of her friends. After about a year of dating, Emhoff popped the question at Harris’ apartment.
They tied the knot about six months after getting engaged. The ceremony took place at the Santa Barbara courthouse in August of 2014. It was the first marriage for Harris and the second for Emhoff. Both were 49 years old at the time. Her sister Maya officiated the ceremony.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Emhoff is a partner at the law firm DLA Piper, in Los Angeles. His specialization is in dealing with media, entertainment and intellectual property. Prior to joining the firm in October of 2017, Emhoff worked as a managing director for Venable LLP.
Emhoff is also licensed to practice law in Washington, D.C. He celebrated passing the bar there in March of 2017, further raising speculation that his wife was considering a presidential run.
2. Harris’ Mother Was Prominent Breast Cancer Researcher Shyamala Gopalan Harris
Kamala Harris, born October 20, 1964 in Oakland, California, is the daughter of immigrants. Her mother was Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a prominent breast cancer researcher. After earning her bachelor’s degree at Delhi University in India at age 19, Shyamala moved to the United States to attend graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley.
Gopalan Harris earned a Ph.D in nutrition and endocrinology. According to her obituary, her cancer research was widely published and she was frequently asked to review studies for the National Institutes of Health. Gopalan Harris also served on a presidential commission on breast cancer. In a twist of fate, she herself battled cancer, passing away on February 11, 2009 at the age of 70.
In her obituary, published by the San Francisco Chronicle, Gopalan Harris was hailed as a “world-renowned scientist.” It went on:
“Despite her 5-ft stature, hers was a commanding presence characterized by a sharp wit, keen sense of humor and endless depth of knowledge. 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 talent as a breast cancer researcher took her to universities around the world, from the Univ of Illinois and Univ of Wisconsin, to France, Italy, and a 16-year tenure at the Lady Davis Inst for Med Research at the Jewish General Hosp and the Dept of Med at McGill Univ. in Montreal. She made substantial contributions to the field of hormones and breast cancer, publishing her research in countless journals and receiving numerous honors.
Her passion for science was augmented by a fervent commitment to social justice. While a student at Berkeley in the ’60s, she became fully engaged in the Civil Rights Movement, leading to a lifelong fight against injustice, racial discrimination and intolerance. She instilled these values in her daughters, who in turn have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of justice and equality – one as the first female elected District Attorney of SF and the other as vice president of Peace and Social Justice at the Ford Foundation in NY. But for all she accomplished in her life and career, the roles Shyamala cherished most were of “Mommy” and “Grandma.” She relished every moment she spent with her daughters and her self-described “greatest gift,” her granddaughter.”
3. Kamala Harris’ Father Was From Jamaica and Worked as an Economics Professor at Stanford
Kamala Harris shared that her mother went against tradition when she married Donald Harris. Shyamala Gopalan met Harris when she was in graduate school. Senator Harris wrote about their story on Facebook: “The plan was to go back home [to India] when she finished school, but when she met my father Donald Harris, she made a different plan. She went against a practice reaching back thousands of years, and instead of an arranged marriage, chose a love marriage. This, an act of self-determination, made me and my sister Maya. And – like millions of the children of immigrants before and since – it made us Americans.”
Donald Harris was earning his Ph.D in economics when he married Kamala’s mother. He went on to become a professor at Stanford, becoming a faculty member in 1972.
According to his Stanford bio, Harris made it a priority to give back to his native country. He frequently served as an economic consultant to the Jamaican government and its Prime Ministers.
Kamala Harris’ parents divorced when she was 5 years old. She and her sister were primarily raised by their mother, as her career took them away from California.
4. Kamala’s Sister, Maya Harris, is a Political Commentator and Served as a Policy Adviser on Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign
Maya Harris joined her older sister in the legal field and into politics. In an interview with the Stanford Law School, Maya shared that her parents’ involvement in the civil rights movement inspired both her and Kamala to get involved.
“Their activism and what they were striving to achieve was what we talked about at the dinner table. I knew at a very early age that I was going to one day have a career that would allow me to work for social justice and focus on improving the quality of people’s lives.”
Harris attended law school at Stanford. Her first job post-graduation was as a law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge James Ware in the Northern District of California. Harris went on to work for Jackson Tufts Cole and Black, LLP in San Francisco as a civil litigator.
Maya Harris followed her parents’ footsteps and became a professor. She taught at the University of San Francisco School of Law and the New College of California School of Law. At age 29, she became one of the youngest law school deans in the nation when she became dean of the Lincoln Law School of San Jose. Harris also became involved in activism, like her parents. Her resume includes serving as executive director of the northern California affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.
In April of 2015, Maya Harris joined the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign as a policy adviser. She said in an interview with Elle that Clinton wanted to surround herself with various opinions in order to form policy. “Hillary has a really broad approach to engaging people around policy precisely because she understands that there are so many different dimensions to each issue. She really wants to understand how different people are experiencing the issue and what different people think are the solutions to an issue, so that when she actually starts to develop policy it’s from a very informed perspective.”
In June of 2017, Harris became a political analyst for MSNBC.
Harris is married to Tony West, the Chief Legal Officer for Uber. The couple met during registration at Stanford Law. According to the Washington Post, they met when Maya’s 5-year-old daughter, Meena, wanted to play hide and seek with him. West and Harris became friends but did not begin dating until after law school.
Maya Harris is also a grandmother. Her daughter Meena now has two daughters of her own.
5. Kamala Harris Has a Close Relationship With Her Two Stepchildren
Kamala Harris never had biological children of her own, but she says she has a strong relationship with her two stepchildren. She told the New York Times in 2016, “They call me S-Mamala. I love that.”
The older of Douglas Emhoff’s children, Cole, graduated from college in May of 2017. According to his LinkedIn page, he works as a creative development assistant for the production company “PRETTYBIRD.” The company’s founder is his mother, Kerstin Emhoff.
Daughter Ella Emhoff is a student at Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles.