Two Latinas write to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris

The election of the first Black woman to office in the United States is transformative for our generation and our daughters

People watch Kamala Harris deliver a speech after being elected vice president of the United States.
People watch Kamala Harris deliver a speech after being elected vice president of the United States.BRANDON BELL / Reuters

Dear Vice President-elect Kamala Harris,

We are two Latin American women of your generation. When we were children, we couldn’t imagine a female president in any country. To be honest, the question never even came up at home or school. We both lived under ruthless military dictatorships. Power was held by old men, their skin and values white, their uniforms festooned with medals. Both of us were born in towns far from the glamourous Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires of the 1970s. As little girls, we saw how the US empire was also ruled by white male power. Your election to the office of vice president of the United States, as the first Black woman of Asian descent to hold this position, is transformative for every young girl and woman across the globe. This is how the world will be for our generation and our daughters.

As Latinas, we never experienced the racist brutality of school segregation. This is not to say that racism isn’t found on every corner of our respective countries. Young Brazilian Blacks suffer the world’s highest rate of fatal police violence. The same week George Floyd suffocated to death at the hands of the police, an officer’s stray bullet killed João Pedro, a young boy who was quarantining in his home in a Rio de Janeiro favela. Those of us who question the use of criminal justice policy as a response to the impacts of social inequality on people’s daily lives feel a certain ambivalence about your work as a district attorney. But your days in this role are behind you; we are more interested in your voice as a senator and in the campaign promises you made.

When we look at you, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, we hear and feel the vibrations of another way of doing politics

In your recent memoir, The Truths We Hold, you explain how it is not enough to tackle the consequences of inequalities; its causes must also be addressed. As feminists, we know the racist patriarchy perpetrates malice and injustice in Latin America and the Caribbean. Our region has the world’s highest abortion rates and harshest criminal laws for punishing women and girls who have an abortion; our countries also have high rates of femicide. The indigenous women who die from unsafe abortions in Mexico greatly resemble the mothers who mourn their Black sons, murdered by police violence in Rio de Janeiro favelas. They resemble the non-white women who elected you to the vice presidency of the United States.

There is a thread connecting the women who endure inequalities and the women who have invested hope in your victory. When we look at you, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, we hear and feel the vibrations of another way of doing politics – a politics that goes beyond quotas for women, a politics wielded by feminist women. Several episodes from your career as a district attorney underline your sense of intersectional justice. Gwen Araujo comes to mind, the 17-year-old Latina transgender teenager killed by two men who used the “gay panic defense.” You carried your role beyond the prosecution and punishment of her murderers; alongside Gwen’s grieving mother, Sylvia Guerrero, you spearheaded actions to craft national strategies for preventing hate crimes against LGBTI+ youth.

We also repudiate the use of criminal justice policies to control health needs, such as access to safe, legal abortion. Abortion is not something unusual in the lives of women, whether it happens because they have suffered violence, because their health is at risk, or because they consider it the best decision for their lives. Today, we reread your first speech as a US senator, which focused on the Trump administration’s disastrous immigration policies. One sentence bears repeating here: “as a prosecutor, I can tell you, it is a serious mistake to conflate criminal justice policy with immigration policy as if they are the same thing.” You closed out your argument by rightfully stating that “an undocumented immigrant is not a criminal.”

Your election to the office of vice president of the United States, as the first Black woman of Asian descent to hold this position, is transformative for every young girl and woman across the globe

Similarly, a woman who has a clandestine abortion is not a criminal; she is the victim of our countries' class, gender and race inequalities. But the United States, through its Global Gag Rule – a policy imposed by Republican administrations that put strings on humanitarian financial aid – has exacerbated the criminalization of reproductive health. Your administration will urgently need to address such problems as the advocacy of “abstinence policies” for teen sexual health and the refusal to fund health services that provide abortion care to women and girls. Please do not forget the question you asked Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh during his Senate vetting: “Can you think of any laws that give the government the power to make decisions about the male body?

These laws exist for women, and the criminalization of abortion is certainly the most perverse. Your defense of health as a right in the United States entails the unconditional defense of women’s and girls' right to abortion. This is a moment of hope for us, in which our most intimate certainties about fairness cannot be overwhelmed by the magnitude of what awaits you as vice president of the United States. As two Latinas, we believe that “to have hope, one must first speak truth.” The truth demands courage, the courage of those who pursue justice because they have experienced in their own bodies the perversities of racist patriarchy. “Silence is complicit” with our privileges, and so we do not silence our joy over your victory – much less silence our anxious hope that you will care for the girls and women of the Global South as if they were your own daughters.

Debora Diniz is a Brazilian anthropologist and researcher at Brown University. Giselle Carino is an Argentinian political scientist and IPPF/WHR director.