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Northeast Ohio's Black, Indian Communities Celebrate Harris Nomination

Updated: 5:50 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020

Cleveland’s Indian American and African American communities are celebrating the inclusion of a woman of color on a presidential ticket with Sen. Kamala Harris joining former Vice President Joe Biden as his running mate.

Harris, the daughter of a Jamaican father and Tamil mother, is the first woman of color to be nominated for vice president by a major political party. The decision is a sign of change in the Democratic Party to more accurately reflect the current state of the country, said Celeste Terry, assistant executive director of the ‎United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland.

“Personally, what it means to me as an African American woman is to finally see someone who looks like you, you can see yourself at the table,” Terry said. “What [Biden] is saying is, ‘I’m the bridge. I’m the bridge for making the next generation, and the next generation is going to be more inclusive, and this is what America looks like.’”

Putting a Black woman on the road to the White House has been a long time coming, Terry said.

“To see a Black and South Indian woman become a vice presidential pick, and maybe vice president? Wow. It’s really something,” Terry said. “Black women have been the backbone of the Democratic Party for so many years, and the Black church as well, and we’ve never really been given our due.”

The announcement has energized the local African American community, Terry said.

“I feel that folks are energized in a way that they were when President Obama was running,” she said.

The decision to include someone of Indian descent on the ticket is a point of pride and happiness for the local Indian American community, said Sudarshan Sathe, chairman of the Federation of India Community Associations of Northeast Ohio.

“Having a person part-Indian a heartbeat away from the presidency is a very special deal. It’s a matter of joy and pride in the Indian community,” Sathe said. “It makes the Democratic ticket look like America, and in our polarized times, I hope that she is a unifying figure.”

Regardless of political affiliation, Sathe said, Harris’ nomination serves as an indication of Indian American contributions to the country.

“It is a natural culmination of a wide acceptance and admiration of the Indian community in the United States,” he said.

The decision could also bring about a general increase in voter enthusiasm from Northeast Ohio’s Indian American community, Sathe said.

“Her being on the ticket will bring about a greater participation,” Sathe said. “I think the Indian community, by and large, is politically aware and active anyway. It’s very nice to see one of our own at least on the road to the White House.”

Harris’ nomination is particularly noteworthy given the nation’s ongoing debate over immigration policy, said Jaya Bidari, a board member with the Association of Asian Indian Women in Ohio.

“During these turbulent times when immigration is such a hard issue, this nomination shows that a daughter of two immigrants has proved she can lead this country,” Bidari said. “It just emphasizes that there is no limit. You work hard, you get your goals in sight and you can get there. This is a story of triumph.”

It’s proof that women of Indian descent can be supported if they run for office, Bidari said.

“We try to excel in our own fields, but we usually don’t go into the field of public service because that involves getting elected by the whole community,” Bidari said. “This shows that yes, you can do it. You can run for political office, you can put in the hard work that it takes and you can get elected.”

The Democratic National Convention, at which Harris and Biden will formally accept their nominations, begins Aug. 17.

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