Where Are You From?

Because of the bullying I endured as a kid, I always wanted to know why my looks were noticed as being different. Where did I get my thick mane of curls, skin that could tan so easily, and features that weren’t easily defined?

People always asked where I was from. When I answered and said, “Miami,” most looked at me quizzically. They would say, “No, I mean where are you FROM?” Typically, they would guess Greek, Italian, mixed race, etc.

My parents were both born in Puerto Rico, but the history of Puerto Rico is quite diverse. The original inhabitants of Puerto Rico were Taino Indians, who were a subgroup of the Arawakan Indians. When Christopher Columbus arrived, with African slaves, at the end of the 15th century, the population would slowly evolve into a mix of Native American, European, and African lineages.

Because of this, I knew I probably had a combination of all three in my blood, but I was curious as to what the breakdown would be.

Last year, I took a DNA test with AncestryDNA, and my results are exactly what I would have predicted:

European             50%

African                 28%

Native American  15%

Other                     7%

I must tell you, it was so fun to look at this report! I not only found out the general regions of my lineage, but I also found out specifics. For instance, I found out my ancestors from Europe were mainly from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal) and southern Europe (Greece and Italy). My African descent predominantly comes from Senegal, Benin, Togo, and North Africa.

My beautiful mom and dad holding me as a newborn, January 1969.

It’s funny because I never grew up with a sense of race until people started bullying me about it. I didn’t understand why it mattered if I did have a mix in my background. Who cares? Growing up in Puerto Rico, my parents were never taught prejudice like that.

As a matter of fact, my dad never knew racial prejudice until he arrived on the U.S. mainland at age 19 to enlist in the United States Army. He once told me about trying to eat lunch in Arkansas with his black Puerto Rican friend (both dressed in their U.S. Army uniforms) in the 1960s. His friend was denied entrance into the restaurant because of the color of his skin, and my father was confused. His friend couldn’t eat there because of his skin color? And a soldier to boot?

My dad in his Army uniform, circa mid-1960s.

Unfortunately, that period of time in the U.S. gave him a crash course on the depths of racial prejudice, and sadly, it still exists today.

I bet those who are prejudiced would be surprised to find out just how diverse their background really is!

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