By doing an ancestry test, I’m learning a bit about myself. I’m also learning a bit about us.
For my 18th birthday, I wanted something a little bit different. No iPhones, no basketball sneakers, no Raspberry Pis.
You know what? I managed to convince my parents to get me an ancestry test.
And it’s about time that I get one.
Growing up, people always asked me if I was really Chinese. Some strangers talked to me in broken English because they thought I didn’t know Chinese (I grew up knowing two written scripts and three spoken languages, just like everyone else in the Hong Kong mainstream education system.) Man, one time some Indians visited my school, their Indian teacher (half jokingly) said that I was as Indian as them.
Well, not that I would blame them: I do have darker skin than my peers and my hair is curly. But I’m an Indian? Seriously?
I’ve thought of many ways to refute them, but I didn’t have the evidence: my grandpa came down to Hong Kong during the war, so we don’t have access to genealogical records back at our ancestry home. My mom doesn’t really know whether one even exists in her side of the family, not to mention where to find it. Taking an ancestry test should (hopefully) put this argument to the rest.
There were some other motivations for me to do an ancestry test though. As I was about to reach adulthood, I thought I had the responsibility to at least know my ethnic identity, so that I could tell my children and my children could tell their children. It would be nice for me to further learn about my identity when I’m in college, to read more or to take classes about the cultures that I’m from. I want to know who I actually am.
Anyways, I took the MyHeritage DNA test, and here are the results:
As expected, I am overwhelmingly Chinese (Viets had historically a lot of contact with Chinese, and had been under Chinese rule for centuries, so I don’t object to the test grouping the two together.) and I don’t have Indian ancestry. What I am mildly surprised though is my “Filipino, Indonesian and Malaysian” heritage. My relatives hypothesized that the lineage might come from my mom’s side, because her siblings had darker skin as well.
But then my mom joked: “I bet it’s impossible for anyone to get a 100% anyway!”.
Well, she might be very right.
Werner Goldberg was The Ideal German Soldier.
Appearing on the Berliner Tagesblatt at the beginning of WWII, Goldberg’s likeliness was the Nazis’ ultimate rallying cry. He had embodied the desirable characteristics of the Aryan Race: tall, fair-haired and light-eyed.
Until he wasn’t. In fact, Goldberg was a half-Jew — he had “inferior blood” in him. As a result, he was expelled from the military in 1940 under Hitler’s orders.
Isn’t it ironic that the Ideal German Soldier was anything but ideal? As a matter of fact, the Nazi leadership couldn’t meet the Ideals they set for the territory as well: A satirical comic at the time put it like this:
“Tall like Goebbels, Slim like Goering, Blonde Like Hess, and Heroic like (Hitler)”
The Nazis’ quest to breed a pure race was a futile attempt from the beginning, because such pure race never existed. There’s no Homo sapiens negro, no Homo sapiens albus, no Homo sapiens flavus. There’s Homo sapiens sapiens, and only Homo sapiens sapiens.
Ancestry tests lead to the same conclusion (though you always have to take it with a grain of salt, since it’s an estimate), that there’s practically no such thing as a pure race, that we’re different but same. We most likely have heritages from various places to varying degrees. Those racists of past and xenophobes of present may never realize that they might have the blood of the people they so despise. Perhaps their ancestors themselves are immigrants decades ago. (I’m not admitting that I’m calling out Trump, but I’m not denying either.) What gives them the power to treat people of other racial and ethnic identities as subhumans?
Our ethnic identity is bestowed onto us since day one — you don’t choose who your parents are, and the genetic baggage they bring along — yet our sense of identity transcends outward appearances. You can choose to identify yourself with a particular community for a myriad of reasons: talking the same language, having the same faith, holding the same political beliefs. Even though I am now aware of my Southeastern Asian heritage, I still proudly identify myself as (mostly) Chinese, because I live the way Chinese people do, I love Chinese food, and I have a very good understanding of the Chinese language.
Just as we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, we shouldn’t judge people by their outward appearance, but by their heart.
All of us are different but same.
Neil Harbisson is the first cyborg in the world.
Born without the ability to see colour, the Irishman got an “electronic eye”, an extension that converts color frequencies into sound frequencies that he hears through his bone, grafted to his skull. Since, his extension got legally recognized by the UK government, and he became an artist, making art out of paintings and voices.
Speaking at TEDGlobal, Harbisson provided a nugget of wisdom:
…and humans are not black and white. Human skins range from light shades of orange to very dark shades of orange, we are never white or black. We are all orange…
And that, my friend, is exactly what an ancestry test wants to tell us. While we have different identities and sense of identities, the definitive identity for us is that we’re very much human. Throughout the years, we humans have tried very hard to coalesce ourselves into “me” groups and “them” groups. The extreme form of this belief led to hate and atrocity: the Holocaust, the Bosnian Genocide, the Rohingya crisis, just to name a few. Isn’t it very naïve to do so when there’s never a pure race, and that we have the same roots?
I treasure my ancestry, and it has given me a unique identity. But I more cherish the fact that I Am a Man.
If we learn to treat one another a little bit more equally, then the world will have a little less fear, a little less hate but a little more understanding and empathy.
If you don’t believe in me, perhaps you might want to take an ancestry test.
This disclaimer informs readers that the writer is not liable to any health risks, privacy issues or discovery of unanticipated facts (included but not limited to (an) unknown genetic sibling(s) or parent(s), surprising facts about readers’ ethnicity, or unexpected information in public records) resulting from the use of an ancestry test.
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I’m learning, I’m learning was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.