This is the first installment of a series on identity. I would imagine that most people shift in identity many times within a lifespan. As my spiritual evolution continues to accelerate, my identity is dissolving once again. Yet, if I choose to live on Earth in a body, it is crucial that I remain tethered to some ego structures , aka personality.
Let’s focus today on race and ethnicity. As someone who was raised with two religious orientations always lurking in the background, I found myself quite confused. My mom grew up Roman Catholic and went to church regularly, yet she says she did not like this faith and happily went along with Judaism when she married my dad. She learned some Hebrew and became familiar with many of the customs and joined Jewish organizations. She did not have to convert because her mother was born Jewish. Confused yet? So if on the surface it appeared my parents were in agreement, they weren’t really. My mother still played Christmas carols on the piano in December, but we were forbidden to celebrate Christmas. My dad said he preferred his orthodox Jewish orientation, but accepted my mother’s request not to keep kosher. Yet he did not eat pork or shellfish on the Jewish holidays and expected us to follow along. It was a hot mess, but made sense to my parents. For many, many years, I was plagued with the inability to integrate the two systems. Eventually this issue fell away. While I do feel more connected to my Italian roots, I have mellowed towards my Jewish ancestry over time.
Then there’s the mystery surrounding my ethnic and racial background, I have been curious about my heritage, part of the identity puzzle, since early on. I began to research my genealogy long before we had the Internet. But it proved to be a rough going. My family gave me very little to go on, because they did not have the facts. Was it true that my father was descended from Sephardic Jews? Why did people speak to him in Spanish when we visited Florida? Why did my parents fall in love with Spain and Portugal when they traveled there? How could my dad look Spanish when both parents were born in Eastern Europe? There were rumors that my father’s people lived in Spain or Portugal until the Spanish Inquisition, but nothing was substantiated. My paternal grandfather died way before I was born and my father’s speculation was not really reliable. I also wondered why my father’s side of the family looked African-American when they got tan. My aunt closely resembled Aretha Franklin and this was an established fact. Were we part African? I also wondered why people continuously come up to me and ask me if I am Native American. Yup, it happened twice within less than a week. Today it really bothered me when a restaurant cashier casually inquired if I was Native American. So I asked the cashier if he was Native American and proceeded to tell him how rude it is to ask people this question , especially in this political climate and when you are working. Maybe it bothers me more than usual ( but it always startled me), because I have zero Native American DNA according to the Ancestry DNA test I took last year. So many questions, especially on my father’s side of the family. Well, the test did provide some clues and a few surprises!
The photos featured are from places my ancestors may have lived.
Here is a breakdown from Ancestry.com on my DNA profile. I toyed with the idea of getting a test done back in 2006 or so but it was too expensive. I finally gave in and bought a test kit in 2017 and the kit sat there unopened for months. Eventually I bit the bullet, filled up the test tube with saliva and sent it off with high hopes. Was I part Native American? Could I have some African blood? Or maybe something even more unexpected? Or not???
European Jewish 76%
Western Ukraine, Moldova, Eastern Romania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary , Moravia
Iberian Peninsula 2%
Europe West< 1%
Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein
WEST ASIA 6%
Caucasus 3% Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey
Middle East 3% Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, Yemen, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Lebanon, Israel
Conclusions: The 76% European Jewish statistic is dead on. With 3 out of 4 grandparents Jewish, this works. I know for certain that my maternal grandmother descends from Poland and my maternal grandmother was born in Russia in the Ukraine. What I did not know initially was that all Russian Jews were forced to live in the Ukraine in pogroms. Allegedly my paternal grandfather, for whom I was named, came from Poland. But my dad said at that time the borders were always in play, so he may really be German. My last name sounds German, but who knows? Would that account for the tiny Western European percentage?
What seems to be off is my maternal grandfather’s lineage. The 25% Italian heritage was reduced by 10 percentage points. I do realize that this is not a complete representation since we do not inherit all of the DNA from each parent, rather varying percentages from both. Science is not my thing, but I have read enough on this topic to glean that some results will be obvious and others may not be.
The 2% percent portion from the Iberian Peninsula is a nice surprise. While the report does not say which ethnicity stems from which parental lineage, I am guessing this result validates the Sephardic Jewish connection. It is such a tiny sliver of my genetic makeup, but most likely this thread goes back hundreds of years. I do find it validating to see some reason why my father and his siblings and some of my cousins look just as Mediterranean as my Italian relatives ( or even more! )
I suppose it is possible that my Italian relatives have some Spanish or Portuguese blood, but rumor has it they descended from France and later immigrated to Rome and Southern Italy. Since my mom’s maiden name appears French, this theory may have legs. That may explain the tiny Western European percentage. I know this French connection is strongly valued within my mother’s side of the family. Then again, it is so small that it may be insignificant. Yet, I felt French in my heart ever since I chose to learn French in 7th Grade and whenever I encounter anything Parisian.
The main surprise in this entire report is the West Asian connection. When did West Asia become a thing? Does that mean I am biracial? Does West Asia translate to Middle Eastern? Most of the possible countries listed ( and some overlap) are clearly Middle Eastern. If I am part Armenian, could I possibly be linked with the Kardashians? This category would also explain the darker skin tone that I possess. But then again, I am also Italian. But it does not explain why people think I look Native American ( unless I am missing something here.)
It is not lost on me that the West Asian category is the 3rd largest percentage listed. But 6 % is still a fraction of my genetic composition. It is quite fascinating to ponder which of these various places are part of my heritage. Most of these places are where terrorism is nurtured and a few are on the US travel ban list. Many have large Muslim populations. Frankly, most of these places don’t scream out to me ( like India or Brazil) and a few of them worry me. What is interesting is that this report raises a provocative question. Could I be descended from the three monotheist traditions – Judaism. Christianity, and Islam? And if so, can that help me extend compassion towards all people, even those who hate Americans and Jews? Truth be told, I do not have to be part Muslim to have compassion for those who embrace this particular path. This genetic data has opened my eyes even wider to the truth that we are everyone and no one. everything and no thing.
While I was hoping for some linkage with the Americas ( Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, Mexico) or Southeast Asia ( India, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore), this is not the case. Originally Morocco was included in the findings, but Ancestry.com deleted it when they updated my results. Morocco is a place I have been strongly drawn to for most of my adult life. Since the report is not as specific as I had hoped, it still could be possible that Morocco is still in play. Like so many things, some answers do little more than reveal new questions. Perhaps some of the places I long to visit have linkage to past incarnations or parallel lives ( or both). Maybe the continual prompt about Native Americans has something to do with encouragement to dig deeper into some of their spiritual traditions. It remains a mystery.
After I had processed the results, I began to build my family tree using Ancestry.com’s resources. I did not get that far because most of my ancestors lived outside of the US and I could not find clear details beyond my great grandparents. I did take out some books on Sephardic Judaism hoping some aspects of this culture would jump out at me and resonate on an intuitive level. Sadly, this did not happen. It was gratifying though to pass on what I learned to some of my remaining older relatives. I wonder what my father would have thought about these findings. I grew up with so much family infighting about race, religion, ethnicity, and class. I was raised to be biased and to judge those who are “other.” I had such disdain for all the hypocrisy and ignorance. But I see it quite differently now. It takes an enlightened perspective to recognize that we are all worthy and there are reasons behind each and every decision one makes. This is why forgiveness and compassion are so very important. While many unanswered questions linger, I have a greater appreciation for the diversity and commonality we all share.
images of Spain, Portugal, and Iran courtesy of wikipedia.org, public domain