Pramila Jayapal & Meena Harris on Trump, Being Women of Colour

Pramila Jayapal and Meena Harris connected virtually to discuss representation and the immigrant experience.

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The Indian American
3 min read
Pramila Jayapal and Kamala Harris’ niece, Meena Harris, got together to discuss being a woman of colour in the US government, the importance of representation, and Trump’s tenure.
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“As immigrants, as women, as folks of colour, we will bring different policies to the table,” said Indian American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal on Sunday, 30 August, as she connected virtually with Kamala Harris’ niece Meena Harris to promote the former’s new book, Use The Power You Have: A Brown Woman’s Guide to Politics and Political Change.

“We chair hearings differently. We have different witnesses. We craft different legislation. We tell different stories. That changes the whole narrative of a particular issue,” she further added.

Pramila Jayapal and Meena Harris shared several aspects of their own lived experiences as powerful women of colour in America, apart from discussing the upcoming US elections.

The first South Asian American woman elected to the US House of Representatives in 2016, Jayapal is presently serving her second term representing the state of Washington. Born in Chennai, she is only one of 14 naturalised citizens currently serving United States Congress.

In her new book, she explores in detail what it has been like to be a brown woman in US government.

Meena Harris is the daughter of Kamala Harris’ sister Maya Harris, and a lawyer and children’s book author.

IMMIGRANT NOSTALGIA 

The conversation began with Jayapal recounting her move from Chennai to the US alone to study at Georgetown University at the age of 16.

“I used to have one phone call home a year,” she said.

Jayapal recounted an understanding of her privilege, but also the awareness of living beyond her means.

She once used her annual phone call only to apologise to her father for buying long underwear, because Georgetown was “too cold”, she said.

She remembered being homesick, and putting up a photo of the Taj Mahal in her dormitory. When asked about it by her peers, Jayapal told them it was “just the servant quarter”, and that her house was “too big to be photographed”. That satirical anecdote landed her with the nickname ‘Princess Pramila’ at Georgetown.

‘THE FIRST’ – AND WHY REPRESENTATION MATTERS

Jayapal was the first South Asian American in State legislature. Meena Harris’ aunt Kamala Harris is the first black woman and South Asian person to ever be on a major party’s presidential ticket.

Discussing the struggle, privilege and the baggage in being ‘the first’, Harris said:

“There is a lot of fanfare that we put around people who are ‘the first’, and you know, it’s a big deal. But the flip side of that is that you carry so much, you’re carrying all of these hopes and dreams and entire communities with you.”
Meena Harris

But representation matters. “What you can’t see, you can’t be. In the case of my two- and four-year-old children, what they see is what they want to be,” said Meena Harris speaking of her own children’s book ‘Maya and Kamala’s Big Idea’.

Speaking of her own experience in what she previously thought was ‘impossible’, Jayapal said:

“The possible is not static, and we need more people who are willing and able to do the things that are hard, yes, but that also are about those people who have not been at the table, whose voices have not been recognised and you know, to push justice more quickly.”
Pramila Jayapal

TRUMP: A SYMPTOM AND A CAUSE 

When Harris asked Jayapal to give her take on the Trump administration, Jayapal said that she believes that both parties – the Republicans and the Democrats – have let America down in certain ways.

“[Trump] is a symptom and a cause. He’s the cause of a tremendous misery, but he is the symptom of a very unequal, unjust country that existed even before COVID hit, before Trump came along. There were 60 percent of Americans that did not even have 400 bucks in their bank account... The complete lack of hope that a government was there to back you up, whether republican or democrat, that somebody was going to stand up for working people across this country, that was gone. People saw government as just another bad force, whichever party it was.”
Pramila Jayapal

Jayapal was furiously backing fellow progressive, Bernie Sanders, to be the Democrat President nominee. After Sanders withdrew his candidacy, Jayapal has candidly spoken about her support for Democratic President candidate, Joe Biden.

“I will be pushing him,” she has said, with reference to a possible Biden presidency. “As soon as we get him in the White House, and even before with these task forces that we had, we were able to significantly push Joe Biden to do things that he hadn’t signed on to before. So he is movable, he is listening, and he does understand that we need turnout from young people, from folks of colour.”

A progressive Democrat, Jayapal has in the past attempted to move a resolution to “uphold basic human rights in Kashmir” in the United States Congress. This was met with disappointment from certain sections of the Indian-American community, and a refusal to be at Capitol Hill at the same time as her by External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

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