Who The Hell Do You Think You Are?

I’m a secret racist. There, I’ve said it. But so secret that it took my automatic reaction to events that unraveled to show me that I am one. But to understand this (if there can indeed be ANY excuse for racism!) you first need to know that I am fiercely patriotic and proud of my 100% Colombian heritage. The one thing that makes my face look like I’m sucking a lemon with anger is someone calling me British – simply based on the way I talk because of my perfect Brit accent – a throwback to my schooling. But if someone says that I’m not Colombian, the full scale Latin volcano erupts. Do they not have EYES?? How could ANYONE mistake me for anything else?? Wild curly hair, cinnamon skin and dark chocolate eyes do not scream ‘English rose.’

Having watched the brilliantly emotive video made by travel company Momondo (The DNA Journey), where around 30 people from all over the world are gathered and take individual DNA tests, this compelled me to take one myself. I dare you to watch this and not be moved to tears.

And as I waited with nervous excitement for my results, it suddenly dawned on me that I am a racist. And I didn’t know it. I felt like a hypocrite, given that one of my life mantras is something I believe to be true- we are all one race, we are all equal, we are all ONE. This mantra evaporated like clouds against a burning sun the moment I sent my test kit away to the lab, and I   started to think about where I may be from.

I knew that I would have some diluted Spanish blood, because our paternal  last name is Avila. You can’t get much more Spanish than that- it’s a beautiful historic town in the north of the country. But I had suspected that, along with millions of others, this anomaly would have been as a result of the brutal conquistadors raping and pillaging our lands. My grandmother’s last name was Pira, a typically native name. She was one hundred per cent indigenous and the woman I was more affiliated with. She too was short, wide, high cheekbones, big boobs, curly hair- a typical Andean body shape (which I have proudly inherited!) 

As I waited for the results I actually fantasised and guesstimated my genetics based on my knowledge of Latin American and Colombian history. I wanted to be mostly Colombian (of course), followed by African in homage to my slave ancestors, hoped for some Amazonian blood to be seeping through my veins, and disdainfully accepted my Spanish heritage. Up until that point I hadn’t envisaged being so scornful of my background. Sure, history has taught us Latinosthat the conquistadors were brutal and mercilessly savaged our people, nations and riches. But I had never felt such strong emotions as I did awaiting my results because our past had seemed so remote and distant. Now, I hoped that my blood was ‘cleaner’ and leaning towards the indigenous and exotic. Not blood from the ruthless killers of ourhorrific  history.

An email pinged one lazy Sunday when I was lunching with a couple of friends- Pirate Eddy and Crystal, who can be described as a water nymph. I was hesitant to reveal the results, somehow feeling I should be doing this alone and in private. Crystal had previously carried out a DNA test and shared her incredible mixture with us, which included Asian and Canadian, gently encouraging me to do likewise.

I read the email to myself a couple of times, mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. I was shocked. I can’t quite recall what I said other than “I’m more British than you!” because I was slightly in a daze.It was actually poignantto be able to compare results with Crystal as it made us curious as to what genetics we had in common. This was the nicest part of discovering my DNA with friends. But when I got home and looked through them all again I cried. 

I don’t want to be 38% ‘Iberian Peninsula.’ I don’t want to be anything other than Colombian, a native. The Spanish colonised us, subjugated us, tortured us, killed us and took everything we had. We were peaceful until they made us savages. Columbus was everything abhorrent about Colonialism. I hate everything about him and what he stood for.

From his very first contact with native people, Columbus had their domination in mind. For example, on October 14, 1492, Columbus wrote in his journal, “with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them.” These were not mere words: after his second voyage, Columbus sent back a consignment of natives to be sold as slaves, and, the rest…we know. A shameful and bloody history I truly wished was not tarnishing my DNA.

I blamed my absent father for my Spanish heritage. Because my beautiful mum IS Pocahontas. But once the initial disappointment subsided I looked closer at the whole picture. I dug deep. I read up all the brilliant information Ancestry DNA supply with the results. They have clearly done an awful lot of research and broken down migratory patterns, trade routes, wars, religious persecution and many other historical markers that helped me to understand a little bit more about my ancestors in a vivid and fascinating manner.

I had so many questions, but mostly related to what I perceived to be the huge anomalies in my genetic make up. Considering in was born and bred in Colombia alongside my parents, grandparents, and up to at least five or six of my family’sgenerations- how did I end up 1% British, 3% Irish, 2% Finnish/Northern Russian, 1% European Jew and 1% Middle Eastern? I guessed and subsequently discovered this was mostly to do with the slave trade, religious persecution, invasions and the aforementioned Spanish conquistadors.

My 1% Senegalese could probably be traced to the largest ‘slave warehouse’ on the island of Gorèe which was just off the coast of Dakar. Many European traders controlled the island at various points, including the English, French and Dutch, and the Senegalese were shipped to the colonies in their millions. As for the Irish part…religious persecution and harsh farming conditions has meant that emigration has been the norm for centuries. As a result over 100million people worldwide can now claim to have Irish heritage.

The persecution of Muslims and Jews throughout history made for huge migration between the Middle East and the Iberian peninsula, which in turn has spread their DNA worldwide also. The Finnish and North-West Russian regions are so remote that genetically there are not a great deal of differences in between both areas, however conflicts and invasions would have integrated people further still. It was through researching this particular strand of my DNA that I also discovered that Native Americans originally descended from people who migrated from Asia about 20,000 years ago, and would have traversed the continents across the Bering Strait.

In these particular difficult times of wars, religious divisions, intolerance towards immigrants and many other negative global factors, having a DNA test should be mandatory for everyone. It will help to highlight your own negative bias (as it did mine), then hopefully make us all understand that we are more closely linked than we may imagine. We absolutely cannot change our past, but we can use the information gained to focus on a more positive future. When we see the hardships that most of our ancestors and current migrants have to endure to ensure a better life for themselves and their loved ones, maybe then could we hope to be more compassionate towards the suffering of our fellow (wo)men.

I for one have never settled on one place. Since leaving Colombia aged 10 and then again aged 21, I have been a constant migrant and mercifully welcomed wherever I’ve been. I have lived in many diverse countries including Norway, Spain, Colombia, Scotland, India, the UK and Dominican Republic, and probably felt at home in each one because without knowing this, I was more alike to their cultures than I had ever considered.

So – who the hell do you think you are? Because if you don’t know..you should. Then you will find out that our similarities are greater than our differences. Because there is just the one race. OUR human race. And I for one am proud have learned that I am a total mongrel. Because that is what most of the world is made up of.

In this festive period I would like to extend my deepest goodwill to ALL of (wo)mankind, and say a massive SCR*W YOU to that bitter and twisted orange hitler trump for continuing to create division instead of unity.  I hope his DNA is made up of every race he is seeking to denigrate, because what we do in life we will pay for somewhere else…

Wishing you a very merry happy holidays, whoever you are, and wherever you are from. Because we are all just an extended family.

To get your DNA analysed, please log on to https://www.ancestry.com.au

Credits: All photos by Claudia Avila-Batchelor.

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