Freshman Mihret Tesfaye had just woken up on Saturday, November 7 and was about to eat breakfast — a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats cereal — when her parents came downstairs, the happiness on their faces obvious. They told Tesfaye that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had won the presidential election. Tesfaye says this moment was “awesome.”
It was almost midnight on Friday, November 6, but junior Siri Adusumilli was still awake working on her biology lab with the TV on in the background. She became less worried as the minutes passed; Biden was getting closer to 270 electoral votes and she felt that the election would eventually end with a blue victory. She believes that because Harris is a woman, her election is a “huge step in the right direction.”
MVHS alumna, Tara Sreekrishnan, ‘11, currently the Chief of Staff for County Supervisor Dave Cortese, was at work when her phone blew up with texts about the election results. She remembers feeling excitement — Donald Trump was no longer going to be president and not only a woman of color, but a South Asian woman was the vice president-elect. Sreekrishnan was also proud — Harris’s election evoked a similar feeling she had four years ago, when Sreekrishnan was working as a delegate for Hillary Clinton, America’s first female presidential nominee.
Kamala Harris broke the glass ceiling as the first woman in the U.S. to win the vice presidency and the effects of her election are felt by women of color like Tesfaye, Adusumilli and Sreekrishnan. Tesfaye says that there are not many politicians who look like her. Since Harris shares the background and experiences of multiple groups, Tesfaye believes that Harris’s election gives hope to many throughout the nation.
“She relates to so many different people: African Americans, Indians, women [and] immigrants,” Tesfaye said. “I know in America, [people say] you can be whatever you want but Harris being so educated and becoming vice president is reassurance of that.”
Sreekrishnan echoes Tesfaye’s sentiment, emphasizing the importance of gender and ethnic representation in politics. She believes that role models like Harris reinforce the confidence and capabilities of the younger generation of women. Whether it be women running for office, volunteering or getting involved in public service, Sreekrishnan believes “the more role models, the better.”
“I know as a South Asian woman in [politics], there aren't that many role models, but I think we're an emerging voice and a powerful voice in politics now,” Sreekrishnan said. “By having more diverse backgrounds at the table, the more equitable the policies will be, whether that's having representation for women, along with men, [or] different age representation.”
Adusumilli’s parents are also excited by the Indian representation Harris embodies. Adusumilli says that because her parents are immigrants, most of the people they interact with are immigrants as well. Seeing Harris in a position of power is “crazy to them” — Harris comes from a similar background as Adusumilli’s parents, but her election was something that her family never expected to see. Even further than just Indian representation, Adusumilli believes that Harris being a woman has a significant impact on what the future looks like for the nation.
“We've seen at this point females run for president, but [there has] never been a female vice president before,” Adusumilli said. “This moment is the first one in a long time that is a step in the right direction. The fact that women couldn't even vote in the last century is crazy — so much has changed. [Harris] stands for how much the world is changing in a positive way too.”
Sreekrishnan believes that as a woman, she is more aware of systematic inequalities and oppressive societal forces. For her, it is inevitable that policies created by women are more equitable and better serve the entire community.
“As women and women of color, we come across [microaggressions] every day in our professional and personal life,” Sreekrishnan said. “I can't tell you how many meetings I've been in where I've said something and then it was just brushed off the table and ignored, but then if an older white gentleman says the same thing, people will listen and say ‘Hey that's a great idea,’ and then in my head I think ‘I just said that a few moments ago.’”
However, Harris earning such a high political position reminds Sreekrishnan why she chose to work in the field of politics. The success of other women in her field excites Sreekrishnan — it motivates her to keep working hard and she also knows that it will inspire thousands of other young women to get involved.
Like Sreekrishnan, Tesfaye is grateful to have Harris as a vice president because of their shared experiences. In the vice presidential debate against Harris, the GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence claimed that systemic racism in the U.S. does not exist. Pence said that claiming law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities is a “great insult.” Tesfaye believes that Pence’s remark cements the importance of representation in politics for women and people of color.
“If Pence doesn't take the time to educate himself, he would have no way to know how racist the U.S. is,” Tesfaye said. “Even though I'm only 14, I've experienced [racial prejudice] so many times, even if it wasn't on purpose. People automatically make assumptions or talk bad just because of my color or because I'm a woman. People get surprised when I’m in a higher math class or when my dad picks me up from school. And just knowing that Harris has gone through these struggles that a bunch of people in America have gone through means she will actually acknowledge them instead of being dismissive and ignorant. It's really good to know that we have somebody in office that will fight for us.”
Sreekrishnan also values open mindedness in politics and credits growing up in the Bay Area for helping her understand the importance of equitable legislation.
“We are in an incredibly diverse community, and I'm so grateful to have come from this community because it's made me value diversity,” Sreekrishnan said. “Not only does growing up and living in a diverse community make you more open minded, it reminds you to [not] think about just your own little circle, but to think about the larger community as a whole and the U.S. [as a whole] and the world as a whole. It really pushes you to think about how your actions affect others. I'm incredibly grateful to have gone to MVHS.”
Both Sreekrishnan and Adisumulli note the importance of being exposed to and led by a diverse group of people. Having individuals of different gender identities, races and sexualities leading the country is crucial in order to run a successful country.
“[Right now, there is one] narrow-minded perspective speaking for 330 million people with different stories and different backgrounds,” Adisumilli said. “We see the same people from the same background and it's hard for them to represent everyone in the U.S. because we're not one person from one background. We're a bunch of different perspectives and having those different perspectives is needed in government because people can't [always] see outside of their world. I think that's really important in a political figure.”