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Ladies on high; First Latina choose to swear in first feminine US vice chairman on two bibles – Occasions of India


WASHINGTON: Kamala Harris, the first woman (of color, of Indian-origin) to become the US vice-president, will be sworn into office on two bibles on January 20 by Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic woman to sit on the US Supreme Court, in a brilliant milestone for female empowerment coursing through an America still in the throes of residual misogyny.
As has been her wont when being sworn in to previous offices (District Attorney of San Francisco, Attorney General of California, and US Senator), the vice-president elect will call for a bible belonging to Regina Shelton, her neighbor, nanny, mentor, and surrogate mother when Kamala was growing up in Berkeley. The second Bible belongs to civil rights icon and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who inspired Kamala to study law.
Harris grew up going to both Hindu temples and Christian churches in the Bay Area, but eventually, she and her sister Maya became regulars at the Baptist 23rd Avenue Church of God in West Oakland frequented by the Sheltons, who ran a day school next door where the girls grew up. On Sundays, their mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris would dress up the girls and pile them into the back of Mrs. Shelton’s station wagon along with other kids to sing choir in the church founded by the Rev. Elton Pointer, father of the R&B group the Pointer Sisters.
Thurgood Marshall was the US Supreme Court’s first African-American justice, who prior to his judicial service, successfully argued the landmark Brown v. Board of Education that resulted in desegregation in public schools. It is a case Kamala cites often in reference to her being bused to school as a six year ol in Berkeley. Like Sotomayor in New York, Kamala too served as a prosecutor in New York before ascending to the court.
The vice-president elect will officially resign from her US Senate seat on Monday, ending her relatively short four-year Senate career. As vice-president, she will now be the constitutionally designated presiding officer of the US Senate.
Typically Kamala’s entire family is present at her oath-taking ceremony. Her uncle Balu and her “chitthis” (aunts) traveled to Washington DC when then vice-president Biden swore her in as a Senator in 2016. But the pandemic restrictions make it uncertain who will be with her this time other than her husband Doug Emhoff, who be the country’s first “second gentleman.”
Her mother Shyamala, who died in 2009, was by her side holding the Sheltons’ bible when Senator Diane Feinstein administered the oath of office as San Francisco’s District Attorney in 2003, and Regina Shelton herself, before she passed away, attended Kamala’s big occasions, including her school and college graduation. The Shelton bible remains Kamala’s go-to now, the Shelton family respectfully relaying it across on such occasions.
She also goes to temples occasionally — the Shiva-Vishnu temple in Livermore being a favorite — particularly on big festive occasions. According to a recent account, when she was running a right race for California’s Attorney General, she asked aunt Sarala Gopalan to break coconuts for good luck at a local temple in Chennai.
In her memoir and several interviews and articles, Kamala has recalled the profound influence Regina Shelton had her (and her sister Maya). “When our mother worked late, it was Mrs. Shelton’s home where my sister, Maya, and I would go after school. We just called it ‘going to the house.’ That house was like an extension of our own household, and Mrs. Shelton became a second mother to us,” she wrote in a February 2019, article headlined “Without this woman, I wouldn’t be the Senator I am today.”
The article opens with the following anecdote: When I was a young girl, I once spent an afternoon making lemon bars. I found a recipe in one of my mother’s cookbooks and set about beating the eggs, mixing the ingredients, and greasing the pan. The lemon bars turned out beautifully, and I was excited to show them off. So I put them on a plate, covered them with Saran Wrap, and walked two doors down to our neighbor, Mrs. Shelton, who was drinking tea and laughing with her sister and my mother. I proudly showed off my creation, and Mrs. Shelton took a big bite.
The only problem? I hadn’t tasted them myself. And as it turned out, I had used salt instead of sugar.
“Mmmm, honey,” Mrs. Shelton responded in her graceful Southern accent, her lips slightly puckered from the taste. “That’s delicious! Maybe a little too much salt … but really delicious.”



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