Kamala Harris: her home town watches as one of its daughters makes history

Gabrielle Canon in Oakland
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Tony Avelar/AP</span>
Photograph: Tony Avelar/AP

The winter wind caused a flutter in a new flag hanging high above city hall in Oakland, California, on Wednesday morning, as the Bay Area celebrated the history being made by one of its own.

Oakland native Kamala Harris on Wednesday was sworn in as the US vice-president, becoming the first woman in American history and the first woman of African American and south Asian descent to take up the position.

Related: Oakland 'hella proud' as Harris joins Biden – despite progressives' misgivings

Harris was born in Oakland and lived in neighboring Berkeley, where her parents studied at the University of California, Berkeley, until she was 12 years old. She served as San Francisco district attorney, and California attorney general, before becoming the state’s junior senator.

Harris has frequently cited her experiences growing up in the Bay Area as foundational in her political career, including being bussed into wealthier white schools as part of an integration program. On Wednesday, residents of the region proudly watched her ascend to one of the highest offices in the land.

An Oakland-Scranton “Unity” flag, designed by Oakland artist Favianna Rodriguez and Ryan Hnat from Joe Biden’s home town of Scranton, Ohio, was hoisted into the heavy gusts the day before the inauguration.

The Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf also hung the flag outside her home in the hills as the inauguration celebration continued on the other side of the country. “Congrats my friend Kamala Harris!” Schaaf wrote on Twitter. “Oakland is proud beyond words. First Black Woman & Asian Woman VP. Daughter of Immigrants & Daughter of Oakland. You make us proud to be Americans again.”

Local businesses also commemorated the occasion. Local Food Adventures, a food tour company, boxed and sold foods that celebrate Harris’s heritage, and included a locally made cornbread mix, a garam masala spice blend from Oaktown Spice Shop, and a coupon for waffles from Harris’s friend Derreck Johnson, the owner of Home of Chicken & Waffles.

Oakland chef Robert Dorsey, who went to the same elementary school as Harris, planned to serve one of her favorites – seafood gumbo – but he’s now calling it “Democracy gumbo”.

Performers from more than two dozen local arts organizations prepared a program titled “Oakland Salutes”, celebrating the Oakland native. The prerecorded videos included socially distanced harmonies from the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, performances from the Oakland Asian Cultural Center and the Oaktown Jazz Workshop, and spoken dedications from local officials.

“I am standing in front of an oak tree, because it is a symbol of Oakland, as well as a symbol of strength, wisdom and endurance,” the orchestra’s music director, Michael Morgan said at the start of the streamed show. “These are all qualities we all associate with the native daughter of Oakland, Kamala Harris.”

Harris will also be able to show off her hometown pride at the White House, thanks to a gift from the Warriors. Stephen Curry, a star from the basketball team that played in Oakland from 1971 until last year when the team moved to San Francisco, presented Harris with her own jersey – No 49, because she is the 49th vice-president – and “Madame VP” in block letters across the top.

In a moving tribute, a video from the team features a young girl named Stella donning the oversized jersey as she thinks about the opportunities ahead. “I love that Kamala looks like me and I can do anything,” she says, as she dances and skips through the city.

Kari Paul contributed to this report