About a year and a half ago my younger sister embarked on an exploration of the family tree using one of the many commercial DNA test kits. Like many others, especially those whose heritage is riddled with the various American storied outcomes of conquest, persecution, and integration, my family was very interested curious to garner a better understanding of our history.
After my sister received the results of several family members so began piecing the puzzle together. This led to candid phone conversations and many more questions than answers; between my sister and me, but also from my daughters who were overhearing our conversation, as well as the conversation I had with my wife.
What are we daddy?
No, I’m Mexican American, but, I mean where are we from?
“Our ancestors are from…” and I began listing our countries of origins.
“And what about mommy?”
A few months later my wife decided to get her DNA tested. She submitted her saliva swab and then waited for a few weeks for the results. During the wait, she asked her parents to submit their swab to identify their geographical lineage. Without hesitation, they said “no.”
“Why don’t nana and tata want their DNA tested?” My daughter asked after hear my wife and I talk about it.
“I’m not sure, but I think it’s because their past is their past and it is very different from the future. They see themselves as Mexican. And I don’t think being Mexican is something they really find important. There are other parts of their identity that they feel is much more important to who they are.”
When continued to talk about the dimensions and aspects of their identities that were important to them as well as those that might not be important, but still have an impact on them depending on where they are at and the opportunity they are pursuing.
I briefly reminded her that “In some ways we are different, but in so many ways we are the same.”
“But daddy, don’t the DNA test just show us how we are different instead of the same?”
“I suppose” I responded. “and those differences help us see that we all have ancestors who come from many places, and despite those differences we are very much the same in our everyday activities as Americans or immigrants or refuges or whatever. Knowing a little more about those differences allow us to feel unique and a little bit less of the same.”
“Daddy, sister, mommy and me are Mexican American.”
“Yes, and that makes you special and unique.”
Moral of the story: Don’t take your DNA results to seriously. Yes, they make you special and unique in a certain way, but as Elena of Avalor said, “if you’re always looking in the past, you can never see the brightness of the future.”