DNA And Heritage - How A Simple Test Completely Changed The Way I See Myself

DNA And Heritage - How A Simple Test Completely Changed The Way I See Myself

Do you ACTUALLY know your heritage?

I’ve grown up knowing one thing for sure - I’m European. My whole family is from Europe, and the only relatives I have living in the United States immigrated here themselves. I’m actually the first of my family to be born in the United States. Now of course, that makes me an American Citizen - and by many standards, an all-around American. But my dad is Italian, and my mom is British. So thus far, I’ve spent my whole life believing that I am more or less 50% British and 50% Italian. I believed the same for my older brother, who was born in England. I’ve spent a lot of time hopping back and forth across the pond visiting my relatives, and my brother and I actually both have dual citizenship between the U.S.A. and Great Britain. I've never really felt like I belong to one nation. My life is so intermixed between continents. Having grown up and lived in the United States my entire life, with my heritage and the majority of my family still living in Europe, I've always felt a bit torn between cultures. I have appreciation for different aspects of each - my American life, and my European heritage. But I've always had trouble defining myself - American, English, Italian. How can you be all of them at once?

While I've struggled with how to identify myself, I’ve never really questioned my heritage. I never for one second thought that I was anything other than British and Italian. That is, until a video by Momondo popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. It said something about DNA and heritage. Bored and curious, I clicked on the video and hit play. The video showed a research team that was running a DNA test on a group of participants to trace their genetic heritage. Prior to the test, they conducted an interview with each participant to ask them about their heritage. Most of the participants were relatively certain of their heritage - just as I was. That is, until the results of the test came back a few weeks later. Many of the people discovered that they were a mix of different ethnicities, with heritage from all different kind of backgrounds. It is truly an emotional and moving video, and I would recommend that anyone and everyone watch it.

You’ve probably seen a commercial or two for the Ancestry website on tv before. And chances are, you probably ignored it, like you do with most other commercials while you’re waiting for your program to come back on. I did too, until I watched the Momondo video. I researched various companies that offer DNA testing, and Ancestry appeared to be the most promising. So I ordered the $100 test, and a few days later, it arrived in the mail.

Because I watched the Momondo video, I knew what to expect. They send you a little test tube that you have to spit into, and then you screw on a cap with some kind of blue preservation solution. Pack the tube up in the pre-posted return box, and send it on its way.

I anxiously awaited my results. I checked my email obsessively every day, and in the meantime, I watched dozens of other DNA result videos on Youtube.

About two weeks after mailing my test back to Ancestry, my results were in. They were shocking, to say the least.

So much for being 50% British! The map above displays all the different regions where I come from. When cross-referenced with the list of percentages, the solid circles represent the areas where the majority of my DNA comes from, and the open circles represent trace regions. I never expected this kind of mix, and I definitely didn’t expect to be more Irish and Middle Eastern than British. In fact, I didn’t expect to find any Irish or Middle Eastern at all, let alone so much. Western Europe, South Asia, European Jewish, Scandinavian, Irish, Middle Eastern, and Spanish/Portuguese (Iberian Peninsula) were all a shock to me.

I imagine that the Irish, British, Western European, and Scandinavian genes are all from my mom’s side, whereas the Italian, Middle Eastern, European Jewish, Spanish/Portuguese are from my dad’s side.

But what puts a big question mark in the middle of my genetic identity is the mass of Western Europe - Ancestry describes the region as including; Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Liechtenstein. That is a big area, with a wide array of differing cultures and people. So - what am I? French? German? Swiss? Either way, I never expected to find any of it in my own blood.

And now, my results have actually tossed my mother into somewhat of an identity crisis. If I’m an average of 2% British, she can’t be much more. And I doubt she ever expected to be more Irish than British. She has spent her entire life believing she is British - she was born there, she grew up there, she lived there for much of her life before finally moving to the United States with my dad after they got married. My results also reveal that my dad probably contains a hefty amount of Middle Eastern DNA. My parents have never mentioned even the possibility that I may have Middle Eastern relatives - probably because they didn't even know about that branch or genealogy of the family. So now, both of my parents and my brother have also ordered DNA tests from Ancestry. Hopefully it will help my mom and I fill in some of the blank spaces in our heritage that the mixed mass of Western Europe presents, and help trace deeper roots within the Middle East.

The results of a test don’t change who you are. They don’t affect or change your culture, your religious beliefs, or your family structure. I am still the same person that I was before I got my DNA results. But now, I finally have an idea of where I actually come from. And Ancestry has provided me with hundreds of DNA matches - I have 68 pages of people that I could very possibly be related to. People that I share blood, history, and origin with. I now have family members that I didn’t even know existed before, in corners of the world that I previously thought had nothing to do with me. I have a newfound respect for the regions of the world that were found flowing through my own flesh and blood. And it has helped me come to terms with the fact that I will never belong to just one nation, one culture. In fact, I belong to more than I ever could have thought possible. I've realized that you don't have to define yourself by just one place, one culture, one ethnicity. Nothing is ever that simple. So instead, it's best to embody everything - accept and embrace every part of yourself, and revel in the fact that your heritage is beautiful and diverse in its own unique way - and that makes you pretty special.

Cover Image Credit: Youtube

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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.

What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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To Fix Taxes, We Have To Rethink 'Wealthy'

"Wealthy" doesn't mean the same for everyone.


When discussing taxes today, so many politicians are quick to rush to the adage "tax the rich." Bernie Sanders has called for the rich to be taxed higher to pay for Medicare for All. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has called for a 70% tax on the wealthy.

However, all of these proposals are missing a key thing: a true definition of rich.

When thinking about what counts as rich, it is important to distinguish between the "working wealthy" and the "investment wealthy."

The working wealthy are the people in society that get paid highly because they have a high skill set and provide an extremely valuable service that they deserve just compensation for. This class is made up of professionals like lawyers, doctors, and CEOs. In addition, the working wealthy are characterized by another crucial aspect: over a long term calculation of their earned income over time, they don't come out as prosperous as their annual incomes would seem to suggest. This is because this set of the wealthy has to plunge into student debt for degrees that take years to acquire. These jobs generally also require a huge amount of time invested in lower-paying positions, apprenticeships, and internships before the big-money starts coming in.

On the other hand, the investment wealthy is completely different. These are the people that merely sit back and manipulate money without truly contributing to anything in society. A vast majority of this class is born into money and they use investments into stocks and bonds as well as tax loopholes to generate their money without actually contributing much to society as a whole.

What makes the investment wealthy so different from the working wealthy is their ability to use manipulative techniques to avoid paying taxes. While the working wealthy are rich, they do not have AS many resources or connections to manipulate tax laws the way that the investment wealthy can. The investment wealthy has access to overseas banking accounts to wash money though. The investment wealthy can afford lawyers to comb over tax laws and find loopholes for ridiculous prices. This is tax evasion that the working wealthy simply does not have access to.

That is why it is so incredibly important to make sure that we distinguish between the two when discussing tax policy. When we use blanket statements like "tax the rich," we forget the real reasons that the investment wealthy are able to pay such low taxes now. Imposing a larger marginal tax rate will only give them more incentive to move around taxes while squeezing the working wealthy even more.

Because of this, in our taxation discourse, we need to focus first on making sure people pay their taxes, to begin with. Things like a tax of Wall Street speculation, capital gains taxes, a closing of loopholes, and a simplification of the tax code. These things will have a marked improvement in making sure that the investment wealthy actually pays the taxes we already expect of them now. If we stick to the same message, the only thing we will be changing is the rate that the uber-wealthy are avoiding.

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