Kamala's Sister Maya Harris Is Seriously Impressive — Here's What You Should Know
Though you're likely familiar with the 49th and current vice president of the United States by now, you may not be as familiar with Kamala Harris's sister. In addition to being her younger sibling, Maya Harris is one of Kamala's most trusted advisers, and for good reason: she has an incredibly impressive résumé. The younger of the two Harris sisters is a lawyer, civil-rights activist, and public-policy advocate, and since you'll likely be seeing a lot more of Maya (and her equally accomplished daughter, Meena Harris) in the coming years, here's everything you should know about her background.
She Put Herself Through College and Law School After Having a Baby
Maya became pregnant as a teen and gave birth to her daughter, Meena, on Oct. 20, 1984. Because she was only 17 at the time, Maya relied on her older sister and their mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, to help raise her daughter while she pursued her bachelor's degree at the University of California-Berkeley and put herself through Stanford Law School.
In January 2014, Maya opened up about the struggle of going through college and law school as a single mom during an appearance on MSNBC. "I was a single teenage parent," she said, "and I could not have done what I've been able to do had I not had access to child care and had I not had mechanisms for me to pay for both my college tuition and my law school tuition."
She Was Introduced to Her Husband by Her Daughter
At just 4 years old, Maya's daughter unknowingly played matchmaker by introducing her mom to her future stepdad. On Maya's first day of classes at Stanford Law School, Meena convinced fellow law student Tony West to play hide-and-seek with her on the campus's courtyard, and Maya and Tony quickly became close friends. However, it wasn't until a few years after graduation that they started dating. "It's a family joke that Meena knew we should be together long before we did," Maya told the Stanford Lawyer in a May 2010 interview.
Tony is a former associate attorney general of the US Senate and currently serves as the chief legal officer of Uber. He and Maya have been married for over 22 years.
She Has Lupus
Maya rarely opens up about her private life, but in April 2020, she spoke out about her experience with lupus after Donald Trump started pushing hydroxychloroquine (which is an essential medicine for people with lupus) as a potential treatment for COVID-19. "I have lupus. I haven't spoken publicly about it before now. But then coronavirus hit, killing black people at alarming rates & Trump unnecessarily put lupus patients — disproportionately black women — at higher risk," Harris wrote on Twitter.
She also linked to an essay she wrote for The Atlantic, in which she explained how she was diagnosed during her last semester of college. "The diagnosis was lupus: a life-changing autoimmune disease in which the body literally attacks itself," she wrote. "The physical effects of the disease are cruel, including excruciating joint pain, organ damage, dramatic hair loss, and debilitating fatigue — most of which I have experienced again and again, often for long stretches, throughout my life. And while lupus can be managed, it has no cure. For three decades, I kept this private and spoke of my condition only with my family and a handful of close friends. I had no intention of changing that until the coronavirus changed everything."
She Officiated Her Sister's Wedding
Born just a little over two years apart, Maya has always been close to her big sister. In August 2020, she spoke about their closeness while introducing Kamala for her Democratic National Convention speech. "Growing up, heaven help the poor kid who picked on me because my sister would be there in a flash to have my back," she joked. "Now we've got your back as you and Joe [Biden] fight to protect our democracy."
The two are so close that Maya even officiated Kamala's 2014 wedding to Douglas Emhoff, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. During a July 2019 interview with the Washington Post, Kamala referred to her bond with Maya as "unbreakable," adding, "When I think about it, all of the joyous moments in our lives, all of the challenging moments, all of the moments of transition, we have always been together."
She Helped Run Her Sister's Presidential Campaign
After graduating from Stanford Law School in 1992, Maya held executive positions at the civil-rights group PolicyLink, the Ford Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. At 29, she even became one of the youngest law school deans ever when she assumed the position at Lincoln Law School in Sacramento. Eventually, Maya turned to politics when she served as a senior policy adviser on Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, and four years later, Maya served as her sister's campaign chairperson in the 2020 presidential election.
"I think most people who know Maya will tell you she's one of the smartest people they know," Kamala told Politico during a June 2019 interview. "The fact that she has volunteered to work on this campaign at such a high level and she's exactly who she's always been. She works around the clock and she's probably the hardest, if not one of the hardest, working people on the campaign. I feel very blessed."