Political power players with island roots

Eric Holder may be the most prominent Caribbean descendant on the U.S. political scene right now but he’s not the only one.

There are quite a few islandistas-by-descent who are on the political scene or the power behind the throne (as it were).

They all just happen to be hugely intelligent and educated, career-minded, successful and fabulous – in other words, the definition of islandistas, even if they are some way from home. These are no ordinary women – but would we expect less of daughters of the Caribbean?

Heading the list is the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, whose maternal grandparents emigrated from the beautiful country parish of Portland in Jamaica to the United States.

Susan Rice in Vogue

Photo credit: Annie Leibovitz/style.com

Rice, who is featured in this month’s Vogue (see pic above) is to put it plainly… super-bright.

A Rhodes Scholar, she attained her doctorate from Oxford University by 25 and joined President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council staff when she was 28. By 32, she was the assistant secretary of state – the youngest ever of course. And now she is the second-youngest ever U.N. Ambassador.

Whew.

And she has two children and a husband.

Because yes, sometimes you can have it all – prevent nuclear proliferation and raise well-adjusted children.

Another prominent politico who is an islandista by descent is San Franciso District Attorney Kamala Harris.

 

 

 

Photo credit: kamalaharris.org

Photo credit: kamalaharris.org

 

 

Harris, who was featured in fellow islandista-by-descent Gwen Ifill’s book ‘The Breakthrough’ was born to a Jamaican father, Professor Donald Harris of Stanford University and an Indian mother, Dr. Shyamala Goapalan.

Harris’ election was a lot of firsts – the first female D.A. in San Francisco, the first black D.A. in California (the state that is home to the LAPD, after all) and the first Indian-American D.A. in the United States.

She told Ifill:

“There is something to be said for being the first in terms of breaking the stereotype of who can do what. It’s not because  you’re the first person that could do it, at all. It’s just everyone’s ability to imagine who should or can, do what.”

She may become yet another first next year, as she’s running for Attorney General of California in 2010.

Behind the scenes, but still bringing the tempo of the islands to politics is Washington D.C.’s other first lady – Michelle Cross Fenty, wife of Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Mayor Fenty himself is of Caribbean descent a good ways back – that distinctively Bajan surname is a dead giveaway and indeed his great-grandfather was a Barbadian who emigrated to Panama. People joke that he may be related to Rihanna (aka Robyn Fenty) but that surname is actually so rare in Barbados that he probably is.

However, it is his wife Michelle that has the closer Caribbean connection, born as she was in south London to Jamaican parents. 

Michelle’s parents –  her father Charlie was a contractor and part-time reggae singer and her mother Annett was a nurse, emigrated to the United States with their three daughters in 1987.

That reggae influence still holds strong – at her husband’s inaugural ball in 2007, she specially requested that the band include a ska number and some reggae!

Michelle Fenty swearing in

Photo credit: Rick Reinhard/bisnow.com

Somewhat like First Lady Michelle Obama, she was actually her husband’s mentor – but in law school at Howard, rather than at work. Her husband confessed:

“I had probably seen her walking the halls for some time. I asked her to be my mentor. . . . It was love at first sight.”

Like the other islandistas-by-descent in this post, Fenty is fearfully bright. She still works as a lawyer with D.C. firm Perkins Coie, in a highly specialised post as a global technology transactional attorney. A Washington Post feature on her noted:

Her legal specialty is so complex her own sister can’t explain what she does for a living. “She does something that only eight lawyers in the world do,” says Athena Cross, 32, a pharmaceutical representative in Brooklyn, N.Y., exaggerating a bit.

Perkins Coie managing partner John Devaney says more than eight lawyers do what Fenty does, but still, “There are just a limited number.”

She is a global technology transactional attorney. Translation: Technology is patented, and different countries have different laws; “my job is to write the contracts designed so that they can build systems that can talk to each other,” she said. One deal she negotiated was worth $100 million.

Lawd. See what we said? No ordinary women, these. They make us proud.

0 comments for “Political power players with island roots

  1. June 3, 2009 at 2:02 am

    I love to read about islandistas doing well. It makes me so proud of my caribbean heritage. I represnt all day everyday out here in Cali. I might not have the island accent but I am quick to say that I am from the islands.

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