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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

In praise of chitthis

Kamala Harris told a story in her acceptance speech — and introduced a new word to the American campaign

By: Editorial | Updated: August 22, 2020 8:20:10 am
In the Trump era, though, it’s all about image.

On Thursday, Tamils were toasting “chitthi”, following Kamala Devi Harris’s shoutout for her aunts after she accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for US vice-president. Chitthi, a Tamil term for mother’s younger sister, trended on social media as millions scrambled to figure out this new term in the US presidential campaign. Harris has two aunts, one of them lives in Canada and was on stage when she announced her decision to run for White House in January 2019.

For the Indian American community, especially the large Tamil diaspora, this would be a seminal moment of connect with American politics. So far big achievers in professions such as healthcare, IT and academia, and in the hospitality sector, the diaspora has been largely invisible in public life. In her speech on Thursday, Harris referred to her mother Shyamala Gopalan, who raised her two daughters as a single parent. “That 25-year-old Indian woman — all of five feet tall — who gave birth to me at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, California”, Harris said, had “instilled in my sister, Maya, and me the values that would chart the course of our lives. She raised us to be proud, strong black women. And she raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage”.

Back in her ancestral village in Tamil Nadu, posters, hoardings and arches have celebrated the nomination. Tamils have had their share of powerful women icons, from Kannagi, the fiery heroine of Sangam epic, Silappadikaram, to beloved and benevolent Amma, the late Jayalalithaa. The irony is that on the day Harris stoked Tamil pride by emphasising the contribution of her mom and chitthis to her rise, BJP’s national secretary, H Raja and a state minister, D Jayakumar, were engaged in a war of words on whether or not the Tamil Nadu government was “manly” enough, in the context of its disallowing Vinayaka Chaturthi festivities because of COVID-19.

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