She was the first Indian American to serve as a U.S. senator as well as the second African American woman. Harris previously was the state’s attorney general (2011–17). In November 2020 she was elected vice president of the United States on a ticket with Joe Biden.
Harris’ mother, Shyamala, emigrated from India to attend the University of California, Berkeley, where she met Harris’ Jamaican-born father, Donald.
Shyamala carved out a career as a renowned breast-cancer researcher, while Donald became a Stanford University economics professor. Her mother also ensured that Harris and her younger sister, Maya, maintained ties to their Indian heritage by raising them with Hindu beliefs and taking them to her home country every couple of years.
Harris’ parents divorced when she was seven years old, and at age 12 she moved with her mother and sister to Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She learned to speak some French during her time in Quebec and demonstrated her burgeoning political instincts by organizing a protest against a building owner who wouldn’t allow neighborhood kids to play on the lawn.
Harris attended Westmount High School in Quebec, where she founded a dance troupe with a friend. Returning to the States to enter Howard University in Washington, D.C., she was elected to the liberal arts student council and joined the debate team, en route to a B.A. in political science and economics. Harris then enrolled at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, earning her J.D. in 1989.
After earning admittance to the State Bar of California in 1990, Harris began her career as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County. She became managing attorney of the Career Criminal Unit in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office in 1998, and in 2000 she was appointed chief of its Community and Neighborhood Division, during which time she established the state’s first Bureau of Children’s Justice.