This year, for Mother’s Day, my daughter bought me an Ancestry DNA kit.
This was not so much to question my Irish roots as to solidify them, and to find out what, if anything else, lurked within my family lineage. I’ve always suspected (feared, maybe) that there was something else mixed up in my family tree that is decidedly not Celtic. As a child, my olive skin, darkest brown-black straight-as-an-! hair, and slightly upturned at the outer-corner, deepest, darkest, black eyes moved people to exclaim “Aren’t you just the cutest Asian girl!” I don’t see it, but that’s perception for you. As I matured, and my high, prominent cheekbones emerged, I was asked, more than once, “Excuse me, but are you an Indian?” Not Indian as in chicken tikka masala and all that spicy goodness, Bollywood, and revering cows as religious deities, but as in Native American.
I always responded with a resounding and somewhat defiant, “I am Irish.” I’ve always been proud of that fact, as fiercely as I am proud of my kids. It’s been the one constant belief I’ve held since I was young enough to ask, “Where do we come from? I’m proud of the Irish story; of stubborn pride, of revolting against tyranny, of the ability to turn a yarn and tell a joke while simultaneously drinking (a dozen) pints. I’m proud of the fierce love of the motherland and the emotional pull I get whenever I see pictures or watch footage. Someday, I will stand on that Emerald Isle and feel the force of all my ancestors rushing up from the earth to infuse my soul.
But the eyes. The hair. The skin that always looks just a tad tanned and browns in summer like a breaded, chicken cutlet. Where did those attributes come from? Of course, I know the history: the British Isles were stormed by many different armies bent on overthrowing its people and controlling it. The Norsemen, the Romans, et al. They raped, they pillaged; some settled and integrated with the native people. Ireland and Scotland bore the brunt of these invasions, and the resulting dark hair and complexion could very well be explained by that. I would shrug my shoulders, thinking that there lurked, somewhere deep in the past, an emigrated, olive-skinned person who mingled his or her genetics with that of my Celt ancestors. I was okay with that belief.
But beliefs are sometimes challenged, and it’s healthy to question them. Therefore, I spit in a tube, packaged it up in the provided box, and mailed it off to Ancestry and then tried to forget about it as the 4-6 weeks of testing and processing commenced. I don’t know what I’m worried about, I thought. I’m Irish enough and nothing can take that away. So what if maybe I’m a little Mongolian or Roman? That might be cool.
I had opted for text messages advising me of my test’s progress, so for the first couple of weeks, I received texts reading
Thank you for registering your kit
We have received your test and are processing it
Your DNA has been extracted and is being analyzed at this time.
As I settled in to wait the remaining 2-4 weeks, imagine my surprise when, 3 weeks and 3 days after I’d been notified that my test was commencing, it was complete, and my results were waiting!
I was suddenly terrified. I texted my daughter. “The DNA results are in.” She responded almost immediately with, “OMG! I can’t wait! Tell me when you’ve read them!” She and her two brothers did have a stake in this, since 50% of mine would be theirs. The great news is that only one of them will need to take the test in order to form a full picture of their shared heritage. Since they’ve all given their father the boot and consider The Husband, their stepfather, “Dad”, they aren’t too concerned with that. I’ve heard more than a few vows of, “I’m you, Mom” to know that whatever the other 50% is, it’s not that important to them.
I was sitting in my garden with a cup of coffee, so I figured “No time like the present” and clicked the link. After a couple of screens, I came to my analysis.
Surprise, surpise! I’m “Irish as fuck”, as the daughter declared, but more pointedly, I’m a Celt, through-and-through. 62% of my heritage goes back to counties Leinster and Munster in Ireland. I am OVERJOYED at Munster, because I’m nocturnally me, of course, and because I always wanted to be a Munster growing up.
The other 38% is dispersed between Scotland, Wales, and England, with County Wicklow in Ireland highlighted, as well. The map bore heavily on the Scottish side, which made total sense. Many years ago, there was a cousin doing genealogy on my mother’s side and she discovered evidence of “a smidge” of Scots-Irish.
Just a smidge? A smidge from Edinburgh to the Highlands, to be exact. The Welsh was a surprise, but not much, because we’re a broody bunch, the Barrs, and the idea that my kin once wandered the Moors, searching for Wuthering Heights, seems somehow appropriate.
All in all, I spent a couple of weeks fanatically fleshing out my family tree and discovering cousins I never knew I had. Specifically, I am tied by genetics to 887 other Ancestry members, which widens my circle quite a bit. Can you imagine that family reunion? We’d need to rent Rhode Island. And take out stock in Guinness.
Now, so many things make sense. My fierce pull to the Atlantic Ocean that wars with my “love at first sight” of the Colorado Rockies; my people came from both an island and lived in the Highlands.
My belief system, very much pagan, with a lot of witchcraft thrown in, harkens back to a people who took the earth’s gifts seriously and were drawn to mystical practices. This conflicts with my love of the ritualistic pageantry of the Roman Catholic Church, but my people were of course baptised into the faith, so it makes sense that I would feel so strongly about one, and so bewitched by the other. My Catholic guilt doesn’t necessarily stem from the Church’s shaming of its members, but by my blood.
I love who I am.
I love that I come from such pragmatic people. While I haven’t gotten far enough back to discover exactly why my Scottish ancestors came to America, I do know that my Irish ancestors came over during the potato blight, as Leinster and Munster Counties were heavily affected by the famine. I’m a third generation Irish American on my father’s side, and it’s looking like I’m Scottish American at least 4 or 5 generations back on my mother’s side. It has really made me think about heritage, and leaving one’s home. I also started The Husband’s family tree, too, and we’re going to get his DNA tested. His family is even “newer” American than mine, with he and his brother being second generation Italian and Slovakian.
In every case, our ancestors came from countries embroiled in troubles, with famine and political unrest and poverty. They knew that, while it might not be easy at first, America was a land of opportunity, where hard work would make their dreams come true. They didn’t dream of untold riches; all they wanted was a safe, warm place to call their own and to lay foundations on which they could build a future for their children. They wanted to worship their God freely, to teach valuable lessons to their kids, and to lay out a future for them that would not include freezing and starving in the dead of winter. They weren’t asking for a handout; they were asking to work for their fair share.
And work, they did; in factories, metal works, delivery companies, and on farms. They dug graves and took care of cemetaries, learned electrical trades, and most of the men joined the military to fight for their country. (One of my great-aunts served, too. Aunt Beryl was an exotic specimen to me the single time I met her. She gifted me with a little, bejeweled, leather purse and realistic toy alligators, because she lived in Florida and she had traveled the world. I thought her to be a superhero of Captain Marvel proportions.) They helped to build this still-young nation and they established themselves as respected American citizens.
Why is it so hard for some to believe that the refugees at our Southern border aren’t thinking in the same way? Back when my ancestors were emigrating, they had to raise (back then) exorbitant sums for sea passage on ships that were crowded, vermin-infested, and where disease spread like wildfire. Recall the “coffin ships” that bore so many Irish to their deaths because they were shoddily built? It wasn’t exactly a safe, cushy ocean voyage aboard a cruise ship to the shining land of opportunity. One needed to be really desperate to willingly embark on such an uncertain journey, many with their young children.
When they arrived, it wasn’t to a comfortable house or apartment, a job, and cupboards filled with food. It was usually to a dirty, crowded rooming house or to stay with relatives, where 20 people would crowd into a two-room apartment with a bathroom shared by the entire floor of tenants. They would find work in factories, where they would work 16 hour days for a pittance, and be spit upon on the street and told to “go back where you came from, you dirty dago/dumb mick/sneaky kike.”
Come to think of it, why would anyone want to come here? Because things haven’t changed, have they? Only the color of the skin, the language, and the entry point have changed. The racist attitudes, the prejudiced rhetoric, and the startling bigotry are one and the same as that of a younger America. For a while, it seemed we had moved past it, but most of us were aware that it had never truly abdicated this land. Those of us with certain immigrant roots that weren’t that far back were raised with the knowledge that our people were looked down upon because of the country they originated from and the accents they spoke with. We bore that shame and that defiance; the fury within us teeming, railing against an Establishment that held our people (us) down. We tried to be just a little kinder to new citizens, and to understand their plight. However, when you live in the slice of Americana that I live in, you become very aware of the undercurrent of anger, exasperation, and intolerance that seethes just underneath the surface whenever the subject of immigration comes up. The snide comments in break rooms and in community groups about interlopers who must be bringing illegal drugs into our communities because they have brown skin; they’re obviously just here for the “free handouts” of welfare and food stamps and health insurance. They don’t “speak our language” so therefore, they don’t belong. They’re dirty, they’re gang members, they bring filth and bugs and crime. They’re stealing our jobs.
Give me a fucking break.
Those “proud Americans” who speak this way have found their patron saint in Donald Trump, who took it a step farther on Sunday when he tweeted that four American, freshman, female Congresswomen of color should “go back to their countries of origin”. He painted them as hateful women who detest America and who are Communists who embrace terrorists. He might as well have called them traitorous, treasonous interlopers who schemed to get into Congress just to tear down the very foundations that America stands upon.
Except, isn’t that an apt description of him? Who buddies with anti-American thugs and has taken advantage of every, single loophole afforded him in order to seem powerful? If you are one of the ones who doubt that (and honestly, why are you reading my blog if you are, because this is Anti-Trump country) then I will submit EXHIBIT A,B,C, an informative, fully-sourced article about how far back this sleazy, corrupt con man has cozied up to Russians who are hell-bent on destroying America.
I found a poem today. It sums up, perfectly, why anyone would desire to leave their homeland for the unwelcome uncertainties of America. It says it better than I ever could. It practically weeps with the tears of those who embark on the perilous journey north, where they are separated from their children and thrown into cages. Don’t call them concentration camps, some people say. Well, what else are they?
~ by Poet Laureate and Activist Warsan Shire
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well.
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
or the insults are easier
than your child body
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.