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US election 2020- ‘My chittis’: Kamala Harris puts spotlight on Tamil roots

MR Rangaswami, a California IT entrepreneur turned philanthropist, said he was “punching” himself in excitement when he heard Kamala Harris utter the word “chittis” in her speech accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for vice-president on Wednesday night.

“Chittis” is Tamil for aunts. Rangaswamy is of Tamilian descent, just like Harris’ mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris. And “chittis” was “totally” a surprise. “I was punching myself,” Rangaswami said, adding, “Indians and Tamilians would have felt a connection with Kamala during her acceptance speech when she addressed her aunts as ‘chittis’.” The Biden campaign spelt it “chitthis” in a copy of Harris’ prepared remarks distributed to reporters.

Harris uses the word frequently for her aunts, said a Biden campaign adviser who wished not to be named. And specifically for an aunt who lives in Canada and who, according to this adviser, had joined Harris on the stage when she announced her run for the White House in Oakland in January 2019.

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Shekar Narasimhan, who heads the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islanders) Victory Fund that is focused on Asian-descent candidates and voters, said Harris was not sending out any signals with the use of the word “chittis” though.

“This is authentic her – this is her,” Narasimhan said. “She did not use that word for some two votes here and two there.”

Her acceptance speech, he added, was a landmark event for him and his family. “It was a very emotional and powerful moment for us who came to this country as immigrants and never really dreamt this could happen.”

There are an estimated 4mn Indian-Americans, of whom only 1.2mn are voters, because of age and immigration status. They are being wooed by both Democrats and Republicans, especially in the battleground states where they can make a difference.

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