On Sloppy Ancestors
Uncovering ourselves is messy. When I started my remembrance I decided to take all parts of me along. I could not imagine a world where I had to to participate in self depreciation in order to be Taina.
By the time I sat in Tony Castanha's world history class, a prerequisite for my masters, I was 26. I had navigated my identity long enough to know that nothing was perfect, even my ancestors. That semester I returned to the Catholic faith, something that brought me much joy. So imagine my confusion when Prof. Castanha announced we would be burning the Papal Bulls that gave Columbus the power to claim lands, and convert people, resulting in the murder of many of my Taino ancestors. I participated in the burning, in front of the cathedral, because faith doesn't erase accountability or genocide. This was a decision that would continue to shape how I navigate identity.
Soon after I took a DNA test. My findings were surprising and disappointing. I believed I was something... something more than European and African. Taina, indigenous, native those were the things I believed I was.
My results felt like a colonial slap. I could not believe I was this white. I am literally the most un- white person I know. But there it was in my genetic makeup 57.2% European. Shocking right! The 34.1% African I was happy about, but nobody believes it! I remember scrolling down these results and thinking why do I feel I so Taina?
My results also made me take stock of my whiteness and the disappointment it triggered...
Race wasn't something I thought about while growing up in the Dominican Republic. Some people were light, others were medium, others were dark... But through education I learned what Europeans had done to Ayiti (modern Dominican Republic). Returning to America and being exposed to modern day racism helped me shape my definition of whiteness.
My opinions on whiteness were formed as I read the accounts of the torture and abuse my ancestors lived through. Needless to say I struggled to reconcile the torture with the many white people I knew that were kind, generous and didn't mutilate indigenous people. I have white friends! mentors! Teachers that have made my life better simply by being in it.
This created quite the dilemma because 57% of me was linked to pure evil. I understood that rape led to the majority of this genetic signature. But I refused to live defined by 1492. I am so much more than that. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with my genetics. Part of this healing required an understanding that sloppy ancestors come in all shapes, and races.
This realization hit me when I looked into my maternal great- grandfather.
Before my trip to the Dominican Republic I knew that he had been a horrible husband to my great grandmother, Ramona. He abandoned her and her children. Grams remembered being hungry, angry. He cheated on Ramona, moved up the road with his new wife and at one point asked her to breastfeed his child. Ramona was still lactating because she too had given birth to his child around that time. I wasn't a fan of his. Then I learned that he wasn't just a cheater, it seems he was a murderer.
This realization broke my heart.
I couldn't believe that I was made up of pieces of this man. My entire life I tried to be "good". I stole something in high school and it still bothers me. I'm empathetic, loyal, and honest. How could this man be a part of me? This made me realize that your ancestors aren't a sentence.
I had to believe that we make a choice when we accept this timeline. Regardless of your makeup you choose which parts of them you want to honor. Some of us seem unable to break away from the harmful patterns of our ancestors. I'm thankful I was. So yes, I'm a white girl. It probably explains my love for all things pumpkin!
To those navigating their own makeup be kind to yourself. The other alternative is to hate parts of yourself. That takes up too much space in your heart. So do sloppy ancestors...