Why Kamala Harris and the Dems Betray the Legacy of Her Mother

Virginia Education Secretary contacts US News & World Report to question the No. 1 ranking of TJHSST

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Last night, at the Democratic National Convention, as Sen. Kamala Harris chronicled her mother’s journey from Tamil Nadu, India, to the University of California at Berkeley, families — like mine — who have similarly chased the American Dream from Asia to northern Virginia should have been cheering.

Instead, they watched Harris, and they were angry — angry that Democratic officials, from a local school board in Loudoun County, Va., to the secretary of education’s office in Richmond, are working lockstep with radical educational activists, gunning to erase America’s culture of meritocracy. These Democratic politicians punish Asian Americans for prioritizing education, pander to politically connected racial minorities by giving them race preferences that discriminate against Asians, and challenge the state’s No. 1 high school and higher education rankings, as Asian American parents dare to protest secretive admissions funny business that targeted their children for exclusion.

“I feel betrayed,” said Lee Rui, a father who arrived in the United States as a teen in the early 1980s from Shanghai, China, where his parents barely survived the Great Famine of 1959 through 1961 and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, with its torturous labor camps. His father’s first job in Jackson Heights, Queens, paid $5 an hour. (Fearing retaliation in the school or at work, in America’s disturbing cancel culture, he used his real first name and an ancestral name for his last name.)

This crisis is something that should worry Democratic Party officials because Asian Americans make up the largest minority (about 19 percent) in northern Virginia, where, many voting Democratic, they helped Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam win the state in the 2019 election for the first time in a generation with a Democratic state legislature.

For the last two weeks, Rui has been among hundreds of Asian American parents, students and local high school alumni, waging a fierce battle, alongside others to preserve the system of merit-based education that allowed Harris’ mother to succeed in America. In Fairfax County, he has joined a fight to preserve race-blind, merit-based admission to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, where a child of his is a student at the school. It’s ranked America’s No. 1 high school by US News and World Report, but some politicians want to dismantle it. In neighboring Loudoun County, the school board last week added geographic and socioeconomic quotas (a typical proxy for race) and lowered the admissions standards from a “B” average to a “C” average to the Academies of Loudoun, a magnet program with a focus on science, math, technology and engineering, STEM. The families in the magnet schools in Loudoun and Fairfax counties are mostly Asian and mostly immigrant with narratives much like the story of Harris’ mother, many engineers, software programmers and tech experts who came to the U.S. from India in the 1990s to save the U.S. from the “Y2K bug” that government leaders feared would decimate computer systems nationwide. (It didn’t, in part due to their efforts.)

To the shock of these families, local and state Democratic politicians have turned their backs on the Asian community and treated Asian American students and their families as virtual punching bags, in a reckless virtue signaling rush to increase the numbers of Black, Hispanic and lower income students in their STEM schools. The Coalition for TJ, a network of parents, students, alumni and community members, sent Northam a petition last week that over 2,500 people have signed, recommending more meaningful mentoring and education programs that build a pipeline for more students from underrepresented minorities to gain admission based on academic merit.

Sign the Petition

Facing angry criticism from parents, Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni — a Pakistani American and the state’s highest ranking education official in the Democratic administration of Gov. Ralph Northam — went so far as to write to one TJ parent this past Saturday and raise questions over the “fidelity” of the school rankings by US News and World Report, which places TJ No. 1. He wrote that he had “reached out” to the magazine to “set up a meeting to ask them” about how they weighted the "different social and economic backgrounds” of students.

A US News and World Report spokeswoman confirmed to me that the magazine had “received an initial email on Sunday afternoon” from the Virginia education secretary’s office “to ask about how we calculate the Best High Schools rankings.” The spokeswoman said they had sent Qarni’s staff their methodology and technical appendix, available on their website here.

The dad from Shanghai was stunned. He had voted for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in the primary this past spring. Now, he wondered if he could vote for Biden and Harris in November if a Democratic politician was going to be so petty as to meddle with a school ranking. It wasn’t Massachusetts or New York state officials writing to US News and World Report question and challenge TJ’s No. 1 ranking. It was the top education official of the state — Virginia — with the No. 1 high school, seemingly spitefully challenging a school ranking in his own state.

As if that wasn’t enough, Qarni wrote to another TJ parent saying he questioned a 2019 CNBC No. 1 national ranking for Virginia’s higher education schools, which includes the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, telling the parent he had previously asked college and university administrators, “What did we sacrifice to get to number 1? and, Did we do it the right way?” (Ironically, on its Growth4VA.com website, the Virginia Business Higher Education Council, brags about “our #1-ranked higher education system.”)

But all across America — from Manhattan to Harvard, Yale, the University of Pittsburgh and California — Asian Americans are being told a very different story by liberal-minded do-gooders who are popping the American Dream for Asians. In recent weeks, Nikole Hannah Jones, founder of the New York Times’ controversial 1619 Project, rife with its own errors rewritingAmerican history, has lashed out at Asian Americans again and again on Twitter, negating Asians as “people of color” and diminishing our challenges as immigrants. Last week, the Justice Department found Yale discriminates against Asian Americans (and whites), while Harvard University faces similar charges for allegedly rating Asian Americans lower in admissions scoring for “personality traits.”

Tt the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, officials last month removed Chinese American cardiologist Norman C. Wang as head of a fellowship program. His crime? He published a paper, “Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity: Evolution of Race and Ethnicity Considerations for the Cardiology Workforce in the United States of America From 1969 to 2019,” in the Journal of the American Heart Association, questioning the effectiveness of race-based admissions over merit-based entry. And now, in California, Democratic lawmakers are pushing a legislative proposal, “Prop 16,” that would allow schools and public agencies to include “race” in admission, hiring or contracting decisions to promote “underrepresented” minorities and shut out “overrepresented” Asian Americans. 

The sense of betrayal hits home for me. Like Sen. Kamala Harris’s mother, my father, Zafar Nomani, arrived in the United States, also to study nutrition, in his case earning his P.h.D. from Rutgers University. There, at 208 Bevier Road, the university had converted military barracks into student housing, and I lived there with my parents and older brother. When we woke up in the middle of the night for a drink of water, we waited several seconds after turning on the kitchen lights to give the cockroaches time to scamper into the shadows. Like Harris’s mother, my father taught and did research in academia, settling our family in Morgantown, W.V., home to West Virginia University, where he is a professor emeritus. When I was a teen, my father was devastated because he had been denied tenure, but he knew — in America — our culture of meritocracy and fairness meant he could challenge the decision. He did. And he won, in a lifelong lesson to me.

“This is America,” my father told me. “Hard work and good work matters.”

A lifelong registered Democrat with a pride that my native West Virginia was on the correct side of history over the issue of slavery, I only moved to Virginia in 2008 because the state voted for Barack Obama. When my son started as a freshman at TJ, my father was a proud grandpa volunteer, riding the school bus as a chaperone on my son’s freshman biology field trip. In a bog near Lorton, Va., the students counted salamanders for research they were doing. When the students presented their research papers, dressed professionally in suits and ties, my father was front row, videotaping their presentations as if they were defending P.h.D. dissertations, a wide smile on his face, because he saw before him the very values he appreciated most in America.

Standing in the halls of TJ, looking at my son and his young bright-eyed classmates, my father said with pride: “They know the dignity of labor.”

It’s time that Democratic politicians also value these young minds, many of them born on these shores to courageous immigrant parents who — just like Kamala Harris’s mother — crossed the ocean to realize the American Dream and forge a better future in which their children could serve their new country.

Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal reporter. She can be reached at asra@asranomani.com.