Culture of Ancestry

This is a paper I wrote during my time at Spelman College.

Ancestry is more than just researching the stories of the lives that my ancestors may or may not have lived. It is the building steps in understanding who I am and where I come from. My interest in wanting to know where I came from started at a young age. I was adopted and I always wanted to find my biological family. Throughout the years, projects involving pedigrees and family trees permeated my mind and had me questioning. Alas, my senior of high school, I reconnected with my biological family, and I began creating my family tree using online research and the oral stories that they told me.

Having embarked on a journey of self-research, I began to see a different point of view. My research revealed a history of intense emotions that extends beyond slavery. I am a mix of races and cultures, and when I participated in two different genealogical DNA testing programs, this mix of races and cultures was even more evident.

Through oral stories, I know that I come from a strong African background. I have ancestors who endured the turmoil of slavery, while never losing faith that they will one day achieve the ultimate goal of freedom. Some of my ancestors actually did make this goal come true through purchasing their own freedom and later became prominent people in their homes. I also acknowledge my military background that stems from both my Caucasian (European) ancestry and my African and African American Ancestry. Looking at my Caucasian ancestry, I am not ashamed to admit that I am a product of the injustice and lack of human rights that occurred during the era of slavery. Yet and still, I cannot deny the ancestors that helped create who I am today.

I am a descendent of the infamous Donato Bello, a major for the Italian militia who was later stationed in Louisiana, the origin of my Creole ancestry. He married a French woman, Suzanne Moreau, and had a mistress, Marie Jeanne Tailleferr, who was a free person of color. It is he who first paved my cultural diversity, triggering a unique blend races.

As of recently, I have learned that I am no one without those who helped get me here and as a result my culture is all-inclusive. Despite the unjust roles that some of my ancestors played in history, I still must embrace the truths of their existence in my life. I cannot deny my Caucasian ancestry because of slavery and the genocide of Native Americans. I must embrace the actions they may have committed and move forward. I cannot hold my Native American ancestry accountable for some of the enslavement of my African ancestors. During a time where people were manipulated and prosecuted for going against society, the law of the land was “survival of the fittest.”

I’ve mentioned my African ancestors and their bravery through the struggles that came with slavery, my Native American ancestors and their genocide, and my Caucasian ancestry and their role in the injustice of society. What I failed to speak up on are the results of my DNA tests. I am of Asian, Pacific Islander, Caucasus, Neanderthal ancestry. Through the years, I have learned that this is all possible. Slavery did not just occur as the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but also took place across the Indian Ocean. As a result, I could have African ancestors whose relatives were traded to various regions east allowing my DNA pool to be larger. Going back prior to slavery, Africans were traders and set up posts near various islands in the Pacific Ocean close to Asia to allow for easier trade. Let us not also forget the theory of Asian nomadic people crossing into the Americas and as a result became Native Americans. This could also explain the reasons as to why I have a wide DNA pool.

However, the question still lingers: what does my ancestry have to do with my culture? If it wasn’t obvious by now, everything. I embody all aspects of my ancestry, the good and the bad. While conversing with my birth mother, I realize that she accepts her Creole culture. For Thanksgiving the dishes we ate were of Louisiana Creole Cuisine: gumbo, jambalaya, chitterlings, beans, and so much more. I didn’t eat everything, but the stuff I did eat was amazing. To a family who is so proud of their mixed races embracing the good and bad from slavery. The good being the food and the bad being the cruel conditions and treatments that our ancestors were forced to endure in order to survive.

My Culture is similar to the way my birth family lives. Family portraits of all ancestors hanging on the walls. Eating the mixed foods blended together by the cross-contamination of cultures. I don’t feel like a name can truly identify me. I appear black, but I am beyond the color of my skin. I am of mixed races and as a result I want to live in such a way. My ancestry has helped shape my entire identity. By researching and participating in DNA tests, I feel like I have been set free and enlightened. By acknowledging the roles that my ancestors played and accepting who they were as a result of their environment, I have chosen to embrace a multicultural diversity. Incorporating a diverse diet in my cuisine talents, as well as learning some of the languages my ancestors and some of my relatives today speak.

My ancestry is a part of who I am and how I choose to live my life today. Culture is what I decide to make of it and I am a melting pot of cultures. Acknowledgement. Understanding. Acceptance. Appreciation. These four words are what helps me continue my diverse lifestyle among my Creole family of origin and my Italian family of adoption.

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