By Maria R Perez, MSSW
I recently tuned in to the PBS program Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (S7E6 Country Roots). In this episode Dr. Gates had researched the ancestral histories of singers, Rosanne Cash and Clint Black. I enjoy this program for the authenticity it portrays. I’ve enjoyed other productions by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and have come to respect the earnest applied approach to his productions.
Yet in all the programs I have seen, I had never noticed Dr. Gates explain the meaning of DNA percentages. Roseanne is “…3.3% Sub-Saharan African which is roughly equivalent to having the third great grandparent of unmixed African ancestry …” And for Clint Black’s DNA test results, Dr. Gates reported, “… 1% percent amount of DNA that you have from Sub-Saharan Africa is roughly equivalent to a fourth or fifth great grandparent of full black African ancestry…”.
Though some may find it difficult to believe, in much the same manner most individuals of Mexican heritage will find African DNA in the outcome of an ethnicity test. For example, in my family we are 4 full siblings, and only 3 of us have submitted DNA tests. Our only brother submitted his test through 23 and Me and our youngest sister and I submitted our DNA test through Ancestry.com. These are our results:
Taking these percentages broadly our brother’s DNA contains about 5% African DNA, our sister’s results show about 2% African DNA, and my results show about 4% African DNA. Thus, the average would be 3.6% African DNA. If we follow Dr. Gates’ formula, then somewhere among our parent’s ancestors we have a third great grandparent of full African ancestry. It would be safe to say that this places our African ancestor within the previous 5 generations into the 1800s. This was well after the arrival of Columbus in 1492; the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1519; or slavery’s start in the US in the 1600s. It is easy to assume that individuals, both men and women arrived from Africa into Mexico by means of any one of those voyages.
Yet, there may be another theory. When I was in elementary school, I distinctly remember learning about the pre-historic continental drift. It is odd how we accept certain facts as truths, yet do not delve deeper into these truths. It is easy to identify where the Americas “broke-off” from Africa.
As I did a bit of research for this article, I made several fascinating “discoveries” that have been right before me for many years. Again, I am utterly amazed at how we are quick to dismiss the obvious simply because we have been told otherwise. There is actually a name for this dynamic. It is referred to as a mental blind spot, or schotoma. Therefore, the phenomena of schotoma is strongly influenced by our individual values, beliefs, and perceptions, and so these determine what is believed as real to each one of us.
So here is my argument. What if organic/humanoid elements of Africa shifted along with the land masses? I am sure that for many this would explain many things. We know by now that our history as a people and as countries has been skewed in various way. Thus, our true ancestry becomes skewed as well.
My favorite proof of this theory are the giant Olmec heads in Mexico. “The Olmecs were an ancient Mesoamerican civilization based in the Gulf Coast of Mexico, in what are now the states of Veracruz and Tabasco. They are also currently the only civilization to have been dated to the Stone Age, prior to the birth of Christ and far ahead of more famous Mayans and the Aztecs.”
Some have another theory. Ever notice the elaborate marches, better known as Second Line Parades, in New Orleans, Louisiana? Next time you watch a Mardi Gras celebration, or better yet a funeral procession, carefully observe the many feather headdresses and feathered costumes, plus drums and horns used for these events. Indeed, these pay homage to Native Americans. But, exactly which native costumes do they best resemble? And remember, NOLA has always been just across the Gulf of Mexico from Mexico.
So, exactly from where do my African/Black ancestors originate? I’ve yet to figure it out. Dr. Henry Louis Gates produced a four-part TV series titled, Black in Latin America. The second episode was curiously named, Mexico and Peru: The Black Grandma in the Closet (2011). For this episode Dr. Gates traveled to Mexico and Peru to share the almost unknown history of the large number of African/black people entering these countries as early as the 16th and 17th centuries.
My maternal ancestors have been from the Mexican state of Chihuahua since at least 1665. I will be talking to my two surviving maternal aunts and to my older cousins and explore this further. Our father was from the Mexican state of Tlaxcala. One of the reasons that led to submitting my DNA test through Ancestry.com was to locate my father’s family. Our father always referred to himself an “Indio Tlaxcalteco” The older I get, the more important it becomes to link up with family no matter their culture, nor race.
So as Clint Black responded to the news, “… that’s exciting, like having that connection you know? I know we’ve been a great big melting pot, and I don’t mind being melted in”. To which Dr. Gates responded, “… and I’m here to welcome you on behalf the race into the fold.” I think I will own Dr. Gates’ “Welcome” as well.
– Maria R. Perez, MSSW, Somos Familia Genealogy Services, El Paso, Texas
Maria R. Perez is an artist, a writer, and a retired social worker who also enjoys genealogy. She is a strong advocate for the dis-empowered and a founding member of The Tornillo Collective – Individuals calling attention to the plight of migrant families and children in US detention facilities through the arts. She is highly creative and imaginative. Maria grew up with a disability. Maybe her physical limitations made her mind nurture possibilities!