With tears and pearls, NJ women celebrate Kamala Harris' barrier-breaking inauguration
People gather at the home of Gail Baskerville-Norris in Englewood on Wednesday to celebrate Kamala Harris becoming the first woman Vice President. NorthJersey.com
ENGLEWOOD — They arrived wearing pearls, including all of the guys. Most wore matching gray T-shirts emblazoned with the name “Kamala,’’ a Secret Santa gift from a mutual friend.
The women — and a few men — gathered at a party in Englewood on Wednesday evening to honor Vice President Kamala Harris, who'd broken barriers for so many of them that day when she became the first woman, first African American and first Asian American to hold America's second-highest elected office.
Hours after the inauguration, the mood was jovial in Gail Baskerville-Norris' home, where a few close friends gathered for dinner and champagne and celebratory line-dancing. They wore pearls, as Harris often does for significant occasions. The menu featured soul food and Indian cuisine — fried whiting, ribs, samosas and chutney — a nod to the vice president's multiethnic background.
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The enthusiasm in Englewood played out in homes across New Jersey, where women of different racial and ethnic backgrounds celebrated Harris' swearing-in in front of the Capitol.
“Today, I think my boys and I felt this sense of overwhelming joy and relief coupled together with pride,’’ said Toral Patel of Verona, a daughter of Indian immigrants who watched on TV with her three sons. “Here is this woman that looks like me, their mom, who is helping to bring this country forward.”
For Harris supporters, there was only one disappointment: The coronavirus pandemic prevented many from gathering with sisters and friends to mark the occasion together. But they kept in touch via text and videoconference, and their emotions burst through on social media.
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Women of Black and South Asian ancestry said they saw themselves in Harris, the 56-year-old daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants. Those in blended families also felt a kinship. Harris' husband, Doug Emhoff, is white and Jewish.
Patel watched the inauguration with her husband, Stevan Jendi, who was born in Puerto Rico, as well as their sons: Asier, 10, Dev, 8, and Firas, 6.
Hours after the inauguration, the boys celebrated with ice cream.
In Denville, Rupande Mehta watched with her daughter, Sophie. At one point, the 8-year-old turned around and declared that she was a "mini Kamala," since her mother had roots in India and her father is a Canadian of Jamaican descent.
“I’m tearing up just talking about it,’’ said Mehta, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for a state Senate seat last year.
Women are “subjected to so many barriers on a daily basis, and we have to find our way through so much, and we have to be 10 times, 15 times, and 20 times better than the average white guy," she said. "There is no other way to put it.”
In Wayne, Khyati Joshi, founder and former co-chair of the South Asian-American Caucus of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, said she felt a flurry of emotions during the inauguration.
“Relief, joy, sadness for the 400,000 people who have died because of the pandemic,’’ said Joshi. She hugged her son after Harris became vice president.
Harris has spoken about trips to India to visit her maternal grandparents, and how she would take long walks there with her grandfather. Joshi, who came to the U.S. when she was 18 months old in 1971, recalled similar journeys.
Back in Englewood, Baskerville-Norris said she wanted to show support for Biden and Harris, who she predicted would “make a great team."
"The two of them, Biden and Harris, bring a good energy. I feel they are bringing the world together," said Baskerville-Norris, who teaches business at Cliffside Park High School.
Some of her attendees minced no words about the administration Harris and Joe Biden were replacing. They criticized President Donald Trump for his rhetoric against people of color and immigrants, and for his part in inciting rioters to storm the Capitol earlier this month, an incursion that led to five deaths.
“I call it the end of the error, the departure of Trump, and I’m very hopeful, despite the pandemic and despite the four years of just atrocities, in my opinion,’’ said Joyce Wilson Harley, a retired attorney from West Orange.
Jeremy Lentz of Teaneck was among the few men invited to the party in Englewood. He wore pearls, too, borrowed for the occasion.
Lentz, who runs the Teaneck International Film Festival, said he became friends with the women, who are members of the Bergen/Passaic Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, through their voter registration work.
“This is monumental, and this is something that needs to be celebrated, and for me to be with my ladies on this occasion is everything," he said.
Harris tweeted Wednesday that she was "here today because of the women who came before me," noted Sapna Gupta, of Short Hills.
"As a mom, I look to the future with hope for my daughters," Gupta said. "I have been in this country since 1987. Watching a female, especially one of color, who is taking the oath for one of the highest offices in the best country in the free world is awesome."
Staff Writer Mary Chao contributed to this article.
Monsy Alvarado is the immigration reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news about one of the hottest issues in our state and country, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.