Nikki Haley may have been born in the United States but her extended family back in India is thrilled that the South Carolina governor has been named by US President-elect Donald Trump as ambassador to the United Nations.
Haley’s parents hail from rural Punjab, in northwestern India. They moved to Amritsar – home to the Golden Temple that is the most holy place of the Sikh religion – before immigrating to North America in the early 1960s.
Haley, 44, was born Nimrata Randhawa in Bamberg, South Carolina – she was called “Nikki” as a child and took the family name of husband Michael when they married in Sikh and Methodist ceremonies in 1996.
Kanwaljit Singh Randhawa, a 70-year-old cousin, told Reuters family and friends were thrilled by Haley’s appointment and said it could help improve relations between the United States and India.
“It is a great achievement for Punjab and India. We are proud of the fact that (Nikki) has achieved this success,” said Randhawa.
Randhawa, a retired lecturer, said he was in regular touch with Nikki’s father, Ajit Singh Randhawa, who grew up in the village of Pandori Ran Singh, south of Amritsar.
Haley came only once to India as a four-year-old child, doesn’t speak Punjabi and has converted to Christianity.
But she has visited India more recently in an official capacity, going to Amritsar in November 2014 on what she called “an emotional and very personal day”.
“I always yearned to see Punjab – my motherland – and now I am so proud to be here after almost 40 years,” she told TV reporters at the time, her voice choking with emotion as she steadied herself with nips from a water bottle.
Her biography is similar to that of Richard Verma, the first U.S. ambassador to New Delhi of Indian origin. He was born in the United States into a Punjabi family but visited often as a child. Verma was mobbed by relatives and locals when he visited his ancestral home in early 2015.