NEW DELHI — At 5 a.m. on Wednesday, Gopalan Balachandran’s phone woke him at his home in India’s capital. It was his sister in south India calling with exceptionally good news: their niece could become the next vice president of the United States.
When Joe Biden announced that he had selected Sen. Kamala D. Harris as his running mate, he made history. Harris is the first Black woman and the first Asian American woman to join a major-party presidential ticket in the United States.
The news also rippled around the world. Harris is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, giving her selection an unusually international dimension.
Harris’ mother, Shyamala Gopalan, came to the United States from India to pursue a doctoral degree in California. Her father, Donald Harris, arrived from Jamaica and taught economics at Stanford University.
Balachandran, Harris’s 80-year old maternal uncle, laughed and proclaimed himself “very, very happy” with the news. Harris is “quick on her feet and a damn good debater,” he said. She is also well prepared to handle the nastiness of the upcoming campaign, he added. Harris “doesn’t take things lying down.”
When Harris was sworn in as a U.S. senator, Balachandran traveled to Washington for the ceremony. Now he hopes to return in January — only this time to see her become the next vice president of the United States.
His sister Sarala Gopalan, a retired doctor in the south Indian city of Chennai, told an Indian television channel that the entire family was thrilled by the news. She praised Harris as a kind and devoted niece.
“If I send her a message right now saying Kamala I need you, the next day she will be there,” Gopalan said.
On social media, Indian politicians and commentators also expressed pride in Harris’s selection. The fact that someone of Indian origin could be “a proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency is thrilling,” wrote Shashi Tharoor, a politician with the opposition Congress Party.
A spokesman for the Indian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Harris — whose first name means “lotus” — has said that after her parents’ divorce, her mother raised her two daughters with an appreciation of their dual heritage.
“My Indian mother knew she was raising two black daughters,” Harris said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2015. “But that’s not to the exclusion of who I am in terms of my Indian heritage.”
In Jamaica, friends of Harris’ father said they were delighted with the pick. Richard Bernal, a former Jamaican ambassador to the United States, likened the situation to when Colin Powell became the U.S. Secretary of State (Powell’s parents were Jamaican immigrants).
“We are people from a small country,” he said. But Jamaicans “always feel they can accomplish anything,” That self-confidence has helped them “survive and thrive all over the world.”
Niha Masih in New Delhi and Kate Chappell in Kingston contributed reporting.