want to ask me what I am or where I’m from or what my background is anymore.
In Los Angeles, it’s a different world. The Jewish world is smaller and the diversity is obvious as you walk down Pico Blvd. past the Persian, Yemenite, Sephardic and Ashkenazi synagogues and minyanim.
Nobody thinks I’m Hispanic in Los Angeles. This is very strange for me. A nurse when filling out my race/ethnicity asked if she should put down Caucasian. I said I was a mixed race Hispanic (white, black, Taino, Dominican) but there was no box for that. If I wanted to be Hispanic, they had an option for Mexican and a bunch of other countries nowhere near the Dominican Republic. Even Puerto Rico wasn’t an option.
LA is a totally different world when it comes to Hispanics. People have a stereotype of where people are from (Mexico) and what they eat (burritos, tacos, enchiladas and a bunch of things I can’t identify because Dominicans never discovered the tortilla). People are perplexed by how I look and how I speak Spanish and a lot of them have never heard of that island in the Caribbean my parents are from until I mention that it’s on the same island as Haiti. They know Haiti because of the earthquake.
So, I’ve been biracial (half-African American, half-white), Israeli, Yeminite, Caucasian, a very light-skinned black and even Persian. Very few seem to doubt that I’m Jewish by birth because of my looks if they don’t already know my story as they did in New York City. In fact, people are shocked to hear that I’m a convert. It’s. So. Weird. Especially after all the drama in New York City where every conversation centered on my hair (currently in a pixie afro) or my background or where I really was from because it couldn’t be New York.
After a family member told me that I had Turkish Jewish ancestry with a possible unbroken line of maternal descent, I started to get more interested in genealogy. I had been interested before but my family was so fractured into its factions (Dad’s side, Mom’s side) and the stories people told me constantly conflicted. I started small on Ancestry.com with myself, my siblings (not really easy with #11? on the way), my parents and their siblings (not really easy when your father has more half-siblings than full-siblings…as do I) and my first cousins…that I know of. I have enough first cousins to fill a ballroom so I just stuck to the ones I knew about and the ones I found out about via…where else?…Facebook.
Then I kept hearing about DNA tests you could take to get more information. But they were so expensive. I waited and waited until the price dropped. The first one I took was via Ancestry.com, their mtDNA test told me that my maternal ancestors were part of the haplogroup L and that my farthest ancestors were in Africa over 150,000 years ago. In fact, I was a direct descendant of Mitochondrial Eve. No, not everyone is. She’s just one of many Eves.
I was disappointed with the test though I found out a lot about my African ancestry, including the Bantu and Khosian peoples.
This test just made me hungry for more. So I took other tests via AncestrybyDNA and Ancestry’s new ethnicity test and lastly, a test from 23andme.com that included health information.
The first thing I learned was that both my parents pass on DNA to me. But they pass on different DNA to my siblings. So my three full siblings probably have different genetic ethnic DNA, perhaps accounting for my lack of melanin and their awesome tans but also that I could have a particular ancestry (like French) even if it didn’t show up on my DNA test.
After all the tests, I got closer to finding out “who I am,” not “what I am.” So, do you really want to know?!