15 Jul 2015

Who are you?

For many years, I have known that my mother (who was born in Oklahoma City) was of German descent and that my father (who was born in S(h)imla, India) was of English descent.

I also knew that my father's family had lived in India for several generations, as part of the British Colonial administration, and that his family had thalassemia [clinical description], an inherited blood condition that is linked with anemia (bad) and resistance to malaria (good).

What I had thought for years is that our thalassemia had originated with the "Mediterranean branch" of the family, which would also explain my propensity for dark skin.

But then I read this article on how thalassemia is endemic to South Asia. Now the question was whether our family had "gone native" in ways that the family bible hadn't recorded?

Luckily, we now have cheap tools to answer these questions. I paid $100 to get a "DNA-spit test" from 23andme (big discussion of various services):

These results (based on 75% 90% statistical matching) show that a significant share of my DNA is indigenous to South Asia. So I'm a bit more "Indian" than just my father's birthplace, taste in spicy food, and enjoyment of the subcontinent.

I've been thinking about these results for a few weeks now, in terms of who I am...

From a cultural perspective, I am a Californian who grew up in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

From a heritage perspective, I am a bit German (organized, getting the most out of resources, but not quite up for the complex language or dull competence) as well as English (yes to witty humour, biscuits and the working class, but no to tea, cricket and lager-louts). I am, of course, American in a big sense but have always enjoyed the option to be from (or go) elsewhere.

From a national perspective, I am American but also British. These labels are crude in terms of who I am but not where I live or associate.

From a genetic perspective, I am German, English and Indian. Luckily for my sanity and self-esteem, I have never been prejudiced or bigoted towards Indians, as I would now face quite a dilemma of hypocrisy.

What's interesting is that my eyes now see differently. In the past, I knew that the Germans and English were "me" in some way. Now I know (with some statistical probability that may be wrong but is certainly more right than my previous "just-so" heritage) that I am also linked to Indians in some way. This is confusing because I do not share culture, heritage and/or nationality with most Indians. But it is also comforting: I have more in common with "those people," and common roots make for compassion.

To put my thoughts in perspective, imagine that YOU get a DNA test back that reveals your roots in Thailand, Mexico, Norway or Iran. Wouldn't you be more curious and perhaps sympathetic to those your people?

Bottom Line: Our deepest roots are human, not national.
Addendum (15 Dec): Everyone on Earth is your cousin.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is really cool DZ, I might move forward and try the service myself!

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