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Kamala Harris' VP selection could inspire women, girls of color, LI political observers say

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) on Jan.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) on Jan. 9, 2019 in Albany. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

The selection of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as the Democrats' nominee for vice president — the first woman of color to be on a major party's presidential ticket — represents the "richness" of America's ethnic diversity, as one Long Island political observer put it, as well as an "inclusive" vision of America that could inspire many, particularly women and girls of color.

"This nomination is significant, both symbolically and substantively," said Meena Bose, director of Hofstra University's Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency. "First of all image matters," she said, in "who represents the leadership in our country: A United States that is increasingly diverse [and] multicultural."

State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), the first Black woman to lead the New York State Senate, said the significance of Harris' selection as the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee was "obvious."

"This American ideal, the dream, is built on certain promises," Stewart-Cousins said. "When you see Kamala Harris, a woman of Jamaican descent and Indian descent … who achieved this level through her hard work, it underscores that the dream of America is real. Not only is it real for some people, now even broader it is real for so many girls who are coming up: African American girls, Asian girls. It just becomes a statement of broader opportunity."

Stewart-Cousins added the Democratic ticket showed it's "for a strong, inclusive America."

And the younger generation has taken notice.

"The Harris selection on the ticket shows that all the anti-racism work that millennials have been doing is pushing our country in the right direction," Shanequa Levin, 40, a Black woman who is founder and chief executive of the Women's Diversity Network on Long Island, said in an email. "The Democratic Party can’t ignore the young vote."

Bose said Harris represented a "generational shift" for the Democratic Party, noting that if Joseph R. Biden Jr., 77, were elected, he would be the oldest American president in history. Harris is 55. 

Bose said Harris' background illustrated the country's diversity, not only of race and ethnicity, but also in "family background, careers and education. The fact that Harris went to an HBCU [Historically Black College and University], Howard University," brings excitement to a segment of the Democratic coalition, she said.

Bose added that Harris' story — the daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, both immigrants to the United States to attend graduate school, where they met and later married — had echoes of her own life. "Both of my parents are Indian. My dad came here for graduate school in 1961." As a daughter born in the United States to immigrant parents, like Harris, Bose said, "It is a story that resonates."

Mohinder Singh Taneja, a Long Island Indian American community leader, who said he was "very passionate about diversity," predicted Harris' selection "will start making people get more involved with public service" in the South Asian community and "everybody."

State Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown) said he was beyond excited by Harris being selected as Biden's running mate, and highlighted his own roots as "the first Indian senator for the state of New York." He said "given her background, her ethnic background … it just means so much to my community, the South Asian community." 

Biden's selection of Harris shows, Thomas said, that "his vision of America is inclusion." And Thomas said it was time to select a woman of color for high office, noting "African American women historically have been in the shadows, when it comes to politics.They’ve helped flip states [to Democrats]. And now for the first time someone of color was basically picked as a vice presidential nominee."

And it's about time, say two Long Island civil rights activists.

"So I have mixed emotions," said Tracey A. Edwards, Long Island regional director for the NAACP. "And the reason why I do is because it’s the hundredth anniversary of suffrage [for women] and we are still at the point of celebrating firsts for women and firsts for women of color. So while I am filled with pride and joy [at Harris' selection]," she said she also was frustrated "that we’re still at this point and we still have more firsts to go in every occupation everywhere."

Theresa Sanders, president and chief executive of the Urban League of Long Island, said, "It should just be natural — I know it’s not" that a woman of Harris' accomplishments would be considered for high office.

Ultimately, Sanders said, "my hope is that people are motivated" to vote.

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