In Canada, Kamala Harris, a teenager who dances disco, longs for home

MONTREAL – There were heirs to Canadian happiness who lived in villas on the slopes and arrived in their high school in luxury cars.

There were children of Caribbean immigrants riding a bus or subway from a historically Montenegrin settlement.

There were Anglophones, Francophones, and children from Chinatown.

And there was Kamala Harris, an extroverted American teenager who moved to Montreal, California at the age of 12, dreamed of becoming a lawyer and loved to dance with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.

Thrown into one of Montreal’s most diverse public high schools, young Ms. Harris – whose father was from Jamaica and whose mother was from India – was identified as African-American, her high school friends recalled. At the same time, they said, she skillfully handled competing racial and social departments at the school.

“In high school, you were either in a white or a black group,” said Wanda Kagan, her best friend. Westmount High School, who had a white mother and a father of African Americans. “We didn’t fit exactly into either, so we fit into both.”

The future senator spent her formative adolescent years in a multicultural environment typical of many Canadian public schools. As she goes down in history as the first woman of color on the presidential list, Canadians claimed her to be her own daughter, seeing her as the epitome of the country’s progressive politics.

“Joe Biden’s new candidate, Kamala Harris, graduated from Westmount High,” CBC broke out, Canadian National Television. Such is Kamala’s mania here that the school has appointed a field media officer who came from all over Canada, as well as from Latin America and Japan.

Some also feel that if her card wins, it could mend Canada’s fulfilled ties to a once trusted ally.

“In her earliest years, she was educated through a Canadian lens and that will surely be erased,” he said Bruce Heyman, a former ambassador to Canada under President Barack Obama.

Mrs. Harris came to Montreal with her sister Maya and mother, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a breast cancer researcher, who divorced the girl ‘s father, a prominent economist, and moved the family to pursue a career.

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Ms. Harris, who was born in 1964, wasted time in Canada amid a racist disinformation campaign that she was not born American. She declined to comment on this article.

But in her memoirs, “The Truths We Hold: The American Journey,” she described the culture shock of the move.

“I was 12 years old, and the thought of moving from sunny California in February, in the middle of the school year, to a French-speaking foreign city, covered with 12 feet of snow, was disturbing,” she wrote.

“My mother tried to sound like an adventure, taking us to buy the first down jackets and gloves, as if we were going to be explorers of the great northern winter,” she wrote. “But it was hard for me to see it that way.”

Her mother initially sent the sisters to a Francophone school. It was a turbulent time in Quebec, with a growing nationalist party and culture, wars over language.

“I used to joke that I felt like a duck, because I would say all day in our new school,“ Quoi? Who? Who? “” What? What? What? “Mrs. Harris wrote in her memoirs.

At age 13, childhood friends said, Kamala mobilized local children to demonstrate in front of their apartment building because the owner had banned children from playing on the lawn. He backed away.

Eventually the family settled on the top floor of a spacious Victorian house in a wealthy neighborhood bordering Westmount, one of the richest counties in Canada.

“It was a comfortable home, with high ceilings, hardwood floors, Persian rugs,” recalled Ms. Kagan, who first met Ms. Harris in eighth grade and lived with her family for a while to escape her violent stepfather.

In September, Mrs. Harris wrote a tweet about abusing my friend, saying, “One of the reasons I wanted to be a prosecutor was to protect people like her.”

Westmount High, which Leonard Cohen counts among his students, was founded in 1874. His basin included more than just money Westmount municipality, but also Little Burgundy – once known as “Harlem from the North” – whose black churches, church community center and jazz clubs made it a center for black culture.

The school was about 60 percent white and 40 percent black between 1978 and 1981, when Ms. Harris attended it, said Garvin Jeffers, a former principal who then ran the math department.

Still, Ms. Kagan said the school departments were “more about who had the latest Jordache jeans than about race.”

Ms. Harris has spread the school’s diverse worlds, her friends said.

Hugh Kwok, a child of Chinese immigrants, can be seen in a 1981 photo of the yearbook with Mrs. Harris’s hand resting on his shoulder. Mrs. Harris, she said, “merged with everyone.”

Anu Chopra Sharma, who attended Mrs. Harris’s French and math classes, remembered the two of them because of their Indian names.

“She told me,‘ You have an Indian name, but you don’t look Indian, ’and I told her the same thing,” she said.

“You couldn’t easily label her,” Ms. Sharma added.

Although Ms. Harris mixed widely, Ms. Kagan said she “identified herself as African American.” She found belonging to the black community and “was attracted to the little Burgundian children.”

She recalled that she and Ms. Harris attended the Black community dance parties and realized they had to be home by 11 p.m.

Above all, she found sisterhood in the female dance troupe Super Six, later Midnight Magic. The girls wore gleaming homemade costumes and performed aerobically charged disco moves in front of schools and nursing homes. Mrs. Harris was called Angel.

Ms. Kagan said she and Ms. Harris spent long hours rehearsing, inspired by “Solid Gold,” a 1980s pop music television show featuring lip-syncing performers surrounded writhing dancers in brilliant Lycra.

“There were six girls of great personalities who were all shades of brown and black, and Kamala could be held on the dance floor,” Ms. Kagan said.

Trevor Williams, a former basketball player for the Canadian Olympic team, dated Maya Harris in high school. He remembered Maja as more literate and shy, and Kamale as more outgoing.

“Maya was smarter, every test 100 percent, Kamala was a little more relaxed,” he said. “They were always so organized compared to the rest of us.”

He recalled that the Harris sisters had diminished their relative wealth. “I didn’t even realize then that their mother was a strong doctor.”

Mrs. Harris was ready and strong in intellectual discussions, her schoolmates recalled. She was also active – she performed at fashion shows, worked on the yearbook and part of the Pep Club, whose members shouted and sang at school events accompanied by the rabbit mascot, Purple Peter.

At the heart of it all, however, was her family life.

Mrs. Harris’s mother had a lasting influence. Ms. Kagan recalled the warmth of their home, where Indian rice dishes were smoldering and learning was mandatory. “Her mom was strong and she planted that in Kamala,” she said.

Every summer, the girls filled the chest of freezers in plastic bags with blanched tomatoes, sucking air with straws. Tomato was used for soups and sauces.

Dr. Gopalan Harris, who holds a doctorate in endocrinology and nutrition from Berkeley, spent 16 years in Montreal, at the Jewish General Hospital and McGill University School of Medicine. She developed a method to assess the cancerous breast tissue that has become standard procedure across the country.

As high school drew to a close, the Canadian version of graduation arrived. Ms. Harris was part of a group of girls who attended without dates, so girls who are not invited do not feel excluded.

“We decided we were going to change the culture,” Ms. Kagan said. “Kamala was,“ Let’s do it! “

The next step for Ms. Harris was Howard University in Washington. She was already regretting her home.

In high school yearbook, she described her favorite memory of a trip to Los Angeles in 1980. She thanked her mother and encouraged her sister, “Be cool MA YA!” Her favorite expression? “No, I’m just playing.”

“By the time I got to high school, I had adapted to our new environment,” she wrote in her memoirs. “What I was not used to was the feeling of nostalgia for my country. I felt that constant feeling of longing to return home. “

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