MONTREAL — There were heirs to Canadian fortunes who lived in hillside mansions and arrived at their high school in luxury cars.
There were children of Caribbean immigrants who commuted by bus or subway from a historically Black neighborhood.
There were Anglophones, Francophones and kids from Chinatown.
And then there was Kamala Harris, an extroverted American teenager who had moved to Montreal from California at age 12, dreamed of becoming a lawyer liked dancing to Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.
Thrown into one of Montreal’s most diverse public high schools, the young Ms. Harris — whose father was from Jamaica and mother from India — identified as African-American, her friends from high school recalled. At the same time, they said, she deftly navigated the competing racial and social divisions at the school.
“In high school, you were either in the white or the Black group,” said Wanda Kagan, her best friend from Westmount High School, who had a white mother and an African-American father. “We didn’t fit exactly into either, so we made ourselves fit into both.”
The future senator spent her formative adolescent years in a multicultural environment typical of many Canadian public schools. As she makes history as the first woman of color on a presidential ticket, Canadians have claimed her as a native daughter, seeing her as an embodiment of the country’s progressive politics.
“Joe Biden’s new running mate, Kamala Harris, is a Westmount High graduate,” gushed the CBC, the Canadian national broadcaster. Such is the Kamala mania here that the school has designated an official to field media calls, which have come from across Canada as well as Latin America and Japan.
Some also have a sense that if her ticket wins, it could mend Canada’s fraught ties with a once dependable ally.
“She got educated in her earliest years through a Canadian lens and that was bound to have rubbed off,” said Bruce Heyman, a former ambassador to Canada under President Barack Obama.
Ms. Harris came to Montreal with her sister, Maya, and her mother, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a breast cancer researcher who was divorced from the girls’ father, an eminent economist, and moved the family to pursue her career.
Ms. Harris, who was born in 1964, has downplayed her time in Canada amid a racist misinformation campaign that she was not born American. She declined to comment for this article.
But in her memoir, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,”she described the culture shock of the move.
“I was 12 years old, and the thought of moving away from sunny California in February, in the middle of the school year, to a French-speaking foreign city covered in 12 feet of snow was distressing,” she wrote.
“My mother tried to make it sound like an adventure, taking us to buy our first down jackets and mittens, as though we were going to be explorers of the great northern winter,” she wrote. “But it was hard for me to see it that way.” Continue reading