One of the most moving things I ever saw Vice President-elect Kamala Harris do was cut an onion.
It was nearly a year ago to the day, when she was still Senator-Who-Wants-to-be-President Harris, and stopped by actor Mindy Kaling’s home for some bonding and policy talk over a home-cooked meal. But the real subject at hand was Kaling’s unalloyed glee at knowing that someone who shared her Indian American heritage had some sort of shot at the U.S. White House. “It’s the thing we’re so excited about,” she said, referring to basically every Indian person she knew and anyone she met or even walked by on the street.
At this point, Kaling reckoned, they were practically cousins. “We’re both South Indian,” Kaling said, beaming. “You look like the entire one half of my family,” said Harris, returning the smile.
As the two began cooking, they fell into the rhythm of people who had a powerful shared experience. They recalled the vegetarian fare they both claimed as birthrights—rice and yogurt, potato curry, lots of dal, idli—lovingly prepped by their professional-class, immigrant moms who made sure multi-course meals were ready for the week every Monday. Both had sweet stories to tell about visiting relatives back in India, where even the dogs were vegetarian, and a funny inside joke about repurposing glass jars that once held Taster’s Choice instant coffee for kitchen spices.
It was around the 3:30 mark that the onion magic happens.
Harris is so proficient with her dice, that Kaling interrupts her own chatty tale about shenanigans with a cousin to exclaim, “That’s a fine chop!” She then declared, respectfully, that Harris is “kind of a show-off,” since, “meanwhile it’s taken me 20 minutes to do just this much ginger!” Food is important to Indian women, says Harris. “I take cooking very, very seriously.”
The moment touched my heart. It’s the kind of exchange that happens when people discover they have a connection that lets them move past small talk into a sense of intimacy, like family they didn’t know they had. While there’s never a guarantee that finding sudden family will be a fun experience, it’s always a short cut to the familiar.
I think I keep coming back to that moment because current political divisions have robbed so many of us of the chance to marvel at the parts of Harris’ identity that mirror our own; the parts that make her historic victory so intimate. The immigrant, Indian, Jamaican, Black American, sorority sister and HBCU grad; the professional, law enforcer, aspirational leader… and my personal favorite, stepmother.
Kamala as Mamala is the first woman to have unflinchingly chosen a professional life and a blended family and still managed to survive a presidential ticket, one of the most sexist gauntlets in political life. Being a stepmother is one of my most cherished identities and I understand the cultural challenges that surround it. Now, my country’s vice president understands something about my identity that few do.
To quote Kaling, “That’s a fine chop.”
It’s clear we are living in fraught political times, and the questions many voters still have about Harris’ record and future leadership likely remain uncomfortably unresolved. Holding the new administration accountable is what matters now.
But as we push ahead, I have had to remind myself more than once that this moment is a wondrous one for so many people who can claim a small piece of Harris, politics be damned. And that in spite of bitter divisions and our own inadequate efforts, representation happens, sometimes when you least expect it. The least we can do, is stop and smell the masala dosa.
And then get back to work.