U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris and actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas reflected on their Indian heritage, marriage equality, the war in Ukraine and climate change as they shared a stage during a leadership forum here.
Ms Chopra Jonas, who now lives in Los Angeles, was invited by the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Forum last Friday to interview Ms Harris for a fireside chat.
The actress kicked off the conversation with their Indian connection. “I think we are both daughters of India, in a way,” Ms Chopra Jonas told the room full of prominent Democrats from across the country.
“You’re a proud American-born daughter of an Indian mom and Jamaican father. I am an Indian born of two physicians as parents and a recent immigrant to this country who totally still believes in the… American Dream,” she said.
Ms Harris, 57, was born in Oakland, California. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, migrated to the U.S. from Tamil Nadu; her father, Donald J Harris, moved to the U.S. from Jamaica. She is the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to be elected Vice-President.
The U.S., Ms Chopra Jonas said, is regarded as a beacon of hope, freedom and choice for the whole world. “And these tenets are being endlessly assaulted right now,” she said.
The actress, producer and philanthropist said after working for over 20 years in films, it was only this year that she got paid equally as her male co-stars. Ms Chopra Jonas was seen most recently in the Keanu Reeves-led The Matrix Resurrections (2021). She will star next in The Russo Brothers’ series Citadel and It’s All Coming Back To Me, opposite Sam Heughan.
Ms Chopra Jonas, 40, also touched upon the issue of marriage equality. She is married to American singer Nick Jonas, with whom she welcomed a baby girl in January 2022.
In her remarks, Ms Harris acknowledged that we are living in an unsettled world. “I have been travelling around the world as Vice-President. I have directly talked with 100 world leaders in person or by phone,” she said. “Things that we long took for granted are now up for debate and question.
“You look, for example, at Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine. We thought it was pretty well settled – the issue of territorial integrity and sovereignty – and now that is up for some debate, given what’s happening there.”
The Vice-President quickly turned to domestic issues. “We look in our own country. We thought, surely with the Voting Rights Act and all that it stood for, the issue of voting rights in America was settled.
“Then we had the Shelby v Holder decision. And then, after the 2020 election, when more people voted and more young people voted than ever before, states around our country started systematically and intentionally making it more difficult for people to vote.”
The Voting Rights Act was passed by Congress in 1965 to ensure that state and local governments do not pass laws or policies that deny American citizens the right to vote based on race. On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court swept away a key provision of the landmark civil rights law in Shelby County v Holder.
“We thought a woman’s right – a constitutional right – to make decisions about her own body was settled. No longer,” Ms Harris continued.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that had provided a constitutional right to abortion.
Agreeing, Ms Chopra Jonas said, “Absolutely. You are so right. There is so much to navigate right now.”