Monday, April 23, 2012

ReConstructing/DeConstructing Race

So this post was inspired by my grandfather's results from 23andme and my conversation with him while I had him taking the test.

During Spring Break, I visited my grandfather in Puerto Rico who I rarely see and built up the courage to ask him to take the DNA test. I had to semi-explain (and I say "semi-" because he was semi-listening to what I had to say) about how the exam would help me with my genealogical research. Interestingly, he kept bringing up that he was 'negro' (Spanish for black) whenever I talked about ancestry and our family. My grandfather isn't all THAT black (he does have features similar to that of an African American but a much little complexion in my opinion) and so I found his statement interesting. In many of the photos he sent his mother in Puerto Rico of himself in Georgia during his military training, he always ended with 'tu negrito', an endearing term which translates clumsily to 'your little black one'. Unfortunately, I never got to meet any of my grandfather's parents, and he only had one sister who passed away when he was younger.

Here is one picture that I have of all three of them (my grandfather, his sister and his father) below:

From Left to Right: Luz Correa (great-aunt), Manuel Correa (great grandfather),
Carlos Correa (grandfather)

I would say that my grandfather's family is probably the darkest side of my family from what it seems. My grandmother's would come second with a lot of her ancestors written down as dark, mulatto, etc. But for me what was most interesting is how we decide to construct race or even identity for that matter.

I was raised Puerto Rican in New York and it is what I heavily identify with. I'm not too sure how my grandfather was raised but he always says that he's 'negro'. Who would I be to tell him what he should say? He isn't aware of his genealogy from what I've gathered but maybe he's onto something. My grandfather's line for a long time remained a puzzle shrouded in mystery. With my recent discoveries it seems that his great great grandparents were immigrants to Puerto Rico from Martinique/Guadeloupe (I'm still trying to figure out exactly where they were from and who they were). Maybe they were former slaves looking for a better life or descended from slaves themselves? So maybe my grandfather wanted to keep their stories alive by recognizing that he was 'negro'.

As of today I got my grandfather's 23andme results, which I was super excited to see! Some of the numbers are off because since the database has only a certain number of samples, sometimes the African and Asian percentages of slightly skewed, but here they are none the less:

My grandfather's results

His breakdown by percentage

His African percentage reached 32% which is the highest I've seen so far in my family and his European is at 59% which is the lowest I've seen in my family as well. Granted, from some of the lines I've traced and have gotten helped from others, trace back to ties in Spain like most Puerto Rican families but what interests me the most are the African and Asian percentages. Could his great great grandparents really be descendants from slaves/former slaves in the French islands of Guadeloupe/Martinique? Could they have some other European mixes they are adding to his percentages (from the looks of it there might be some German mixed in there)? What are the stories they carried with them on their voyage to Puerto Rico.

I wish I could show him these results and talk to him more about his family. I image deep down somewhere he has stories he never realized where related to his ancestors. I also hope that what I've found in the paper trail is correct and adds to the story that I have so far. So back to the notion of race, who are we to say where someone fits in? I never thought of my grandfather as 'negro' but he surely does think of himself like that. Which makes me think of how I identify with Puerto Rican rather than American because of where my heritage and identity lies. None the less I'm learning a lot about family and identity through the stories of my ancestors and the paper trails and DNA they've left behind. 

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