Editor’s note: We run occasional pieces by young people in the Puget Sound area, giving their perspectives. This essay is by Disha Cattamanchi, a 15-year-old 10th grader at Juanita High School in Kirkland.
My grandfather has called me a golden mountain for as long as I can remember. I always found the phrasing peculiar — how could a mountain be golden? But, he explained, I shined so brightly that I could do anything, that I was worth so much to the world. Every time I visited him in India, he would urge me, “Disha, become the president of the U.S. You are a golden mountain.” At the time I would brag to everyone that I would become the president. I now know I do not want to go into law or politics; however, I still dream of becoming something important and worthwhile, changing the world in any small way that I can. Seeing Kamala Harris about to become U.S. vice president has largely fulfilled that childhood dream of mine. Although I only see her through a TV screen, I see so much of myself and what I strive to be through her.
Growing up as an American of South Indian descent, I have not had many Indian role models to look up to who have “made it” in the Western world. Though I am inspired by many female figures, I had never come across someone who came from the same beginnings as myself. Harris has become that beacon of relatability for me. I can relate to her South Indian heritage, even about the most trivial things. When she talks about being raised on idlis and dosas, I can almost taste the rice-batter flavor in my mouth, paired with sambar — a lentil stew — that ties in the flavors. I had never heard a South Indian American figure in the public eye talk about traditional Indian food, and it made my eyes pop from my head when I read that she ate these foods. I was also awestruck seeing photos of her family in their saris and lungis, and realizing they look like my family. It reminds me of my grandmother, who wears the same bright red bindi and colorful red saris, with the same frizzy hair and brown skin as Harris’ family. The many photos of Harris’ mother wearing a churidar suit make me think of all the photos of my mother wearing the same vibrant, traditional Indian tunic outfit, and holding me as a baby.
When I think of Harris’ impact though, I mainly think of my parents who came to America to find a better life. As immigrants from India, it was hard for them to adapt to American culture. Hearing my mother’s stories of her journey, I feel a deep pride in them for thriving in a place that isn’t necessarily kind to newcomers. I see the same in Harris’ parents, in their struggle for a better, educated life, and how they raised her to be proud of her heritage — something hard to do in a society that rewards conforming to Western norms. Her pride in her parents is infectious, and makes me even more proud of the path my own parents have traveled.
I started crying while watching the Biden-Harris victory speech. After four years of turmoil and despair in our government officials, I finally felt hope. I felt relief, after an especially exhausting year of death and violence. As the first woman, and the first person of Black and of South Asian descent to hold the office of the vice presidency, Harris has opened many doors with her election. Though I had stopped wanting to be president for years, when I looked at her onstage that night, I still saw a childhood dream realized. Harris’ election shows young people and women like me that we can do the same, wherever we go. We can become leaders in our fields and respective industries. Regardless of our background, we can become what we want through hard work. She is even more inspiring to me, because I see my skin in her skin, I see my family in her family, and I see my life in hers. She shows me that I can change the world wherever I go; seeing my identity in hers makes me strive to be better every single day. Every time I visit my grandfather in India, he urges me to work and study hard. I had always wondered where that would take me, an Indian American girl, struggling with her identity in a place that doesn’t always give people of color the credit they deserve. Now, I don’t need to wonder anymore.