When the 2020 Presidential election was called on Saturday, much of the world’s attention was on the new President-elect, Democrat Joe Biden. But especially for many women and people of color, the news was just as much—or more—about his running mate. The confirmation that Kamala Harris would be the first female, first Black and first Asian American Vice President sent happy shock waves across the nation. Mothers called their daughters; children of immigrants hugged their parents; Champagne was popped.
“When [my mother] came here from India at the age of 19, maybe she didn’t quite imagine this moment. But she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible,” Harris said in her acceptance speech on Saturday evening. “So, I’m thinking about her and about the generations of women—Black Women, Asian, White, Latina, and Native American women, throughout our nation’s history, who have paved the way for this moment tonight.”
Polls suggest that women who may see themselves in Harris voted blue by large margins. According to an NBC News exit poll of early and Election Day voters, 87% of Black Americans and 61% of Asian Americans voted for the Democratic ticket in this election, as opposed to 41% of white voters. Women overall also tended to lean blue. Now, having helped push the ticket to victory, many of those voters say that bearing witness to Harris’ win was a moment they’ll always remember—and, they hope, that will shape generations to come.
“As a mother and as an immigrant, when you come here, your perspective is, I’m going to work so hard because what you’re told is America is the land of the free, that everything is possible,” says Flavia Magala, a 57-year-old voter from Jenks, Okla. “Whatever I haven’t been able to do in life, I wanted to put it all in my kids. For me, to see Kamala in this big position, it’s like all immigrant mothers, all Black mothers, all Asian mothers can breathe, and know that the excellence that they dream for their daughters is possible. The ceiling is now broken because somebody has broken it.”
Mira Sawlani-Joyner, a 38-year-old pastor in Arlington, Va., recalls that when she first told her 7- and 8-year-old daughters how significant it would be if Harris became the first woman of color to be Vice President, her younger daughter immediately asked, “Does that mean I can be president?”
“Yes!” Sawlani-Joyner proudly responded, and, as the family watched Harris’ victory speech on Saturday night, the conversations in the living room flowed with dreams of future White House Administrations that were even more diverse. “One of my daughters would say, ‘I’ll be President and then you can be Vice President.’ Then they’d be like, ‘What does that mean for our husbands? Will they be first men? What if a woman who is president marries a woman? What if they’re non-binary? They’d be first person,’” says Sawlani-Joyner.
As the daughter of two immigrants from Jamaica and India, Harris has broken barriers many times before this election, becoming the first Black woman to be elected District Attorney in San Francisco and the first woman, first Black American and first Asian American to be California’s Attorney General. But the Vice Presidency feels different. For Sawlani-Joyner, who is an immigrant and whose children are Black and Indian like Harris, the potential impact of having Harris in the country’s second-highest office was clear.
“Growing up, you’re always told you can be whatever you want to be,” she says. “But then that hope starts to dim as you get older and you confront a lot of barriers and issues trying to get ahead. But here’s a woman that’s overcome stereotypes and gender roles and status quo…and it means that people are going to take my daughters seriously too.”
For some members of Gen-Z, that impact has already begun. Da’Jae Allen, 15, a sophomore at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago, says she wants to be a cardiothoracic surgeon, but that she also feels a calling to one day enter public office, and even to aim for the highest office in the United States. And now, Harris has inspired Allen to pursue that path even more confidently, believing that future barriers could come down more quickly. “What Harris has accomplished is an amazing thing, but she shouldn’t have had to be the first. Just like Barack Obama shouldn’t have had to be the first Black president after so many other presidents,” Allen says. “There needs to be a push now for a lot of people of color and women to go into positions in government.”
Not that being a woman of color has been enough to insulate Harris from criticism. On Twitter, many users expressed mixed emotions, recognizing the importance of what Harris represents while also criticizing her record, especially on criminal justice. “We will stan Kamala Harris, the first woman and black woman in the White House, till the day she enters office,” wrote Twitter user @chelseayoung23. “AND THEN the critiques shall begin okay? Okay.”
But Erica Davies, a 30-year-old voter from New York City who has both Black and Asian heritage, hopes that this moment, and the encouragement of a more diverse group of future politicians, will bring change that goes beyond representation.
“It made me kind of hopeful that things will actually change, maybe a little bit slowly, but maybe one day the country won’t be as divisive and that hopefully, one day the Democratic party will listen to people of color,” she says, “because we’re the ones who voted Trump out—it wasn’t white women or white people, it was women of color as always, saving the day. It’s really nice to see a Brown, Asian woman at the forefront of a country where there are so many of us.”
And in the meantime, the power of that representation can’t be underestimated. Davies was on the phone with her mother when she heard about Harris’ win and the two immediately discussed how important this moment would be for young girls of color.
“As a mixed Black woman, it means something to see somebody who is also Blasian in office,” she says. “For kids like me who had an identity crisis when they were little or always felt like they had to choose, it’s nice that they can see that they don’t have to and that they can really embrace all parts of themselves and the nation will hopefully do the same as well.”