How a DNA Test Helped Me Connect to My Culture

Woman smiling with a flag and Polaroid next to her.

I find a lot of gatekeeping exists in the realm of what constitutes a “real” person of color especially in my culture. It exists as microaggressions thrown at you from members of your own community and by those outside of it as well when you fail to meet their preexisting opinions of how you should act based on your ethnicity or race. Many of those in the Latinx community went through forced assimilation, never having the luxury to learn about our culture the way we wanted to. Some were forced to speak English, forgetting their native tongue and effectively disconnecting them from crucial parts of their cultures (assimilation, anyone?) Many can’t even carry on a conversation with their grandparents or other family members due to this language barrier.

While I was fortunate to keep my mother tongue and many other aspects of my culture, I still felt a void in understanding the history of my homeland. In an attempt to connect to my family’s origins, my community, and my culture, I decided to take a DNA test to learn more about each. I was determined to fill the void that so often left me feeling like I had no other option than to assimilate.

While this might seem like a simple DNA test to some, for me it meant finding the missing connection to my culture. I felt that it was important to know my story so no one could silence my voice or my truth, especially through trying to get me to engage in assimilation.

Once I got my results, I learned that my lineage consisted of one typical for Puerto Ricans: Spanish, Portuguese, Taíno, and a bunch of other countries in Africa and even Scotland showing up. Growing up in Central Florida, there were no shortage of Caribbean islanders for me to hang out with, but since I wasn’t educated in Puerto Rico and wasn’t being taught the island’s history in school, I set off to learn more about the history of Borinquen.

From there, I learned a lot about great Puerto Ricans throughout history. From Puerto Rico’s initial colonization by the Spanish to the genocide of Taínos this brought to the United States’ own conquering of the land, I was fascinated by the tenacity of those on the island. I learned about Pedro Albizu Campos and the fight for Puerto Rican independence of the 1950s, and for once I could actually engage in conversations about Puerto Rico’s political status in the world. I even taught my parents a thing or two!

Now when I visit Puerto Rico as an adult, I feel a distinct connection with the island of my ancestors, my culture, and my birthplace like never before. I now understand that Puerto Ricans’ obsession with constantly having a flag everywhere we go (I have 6 in my house personally) came from the result of a Gag Law that prevented us from flying our own flag in the late 40s; this “Ley de La Mordaza” made it illegal to fly the Puerto Rican flag or own one even in your home, discuss independence, or speak against the government.

Puerto Rico protests GIF Puerto Rico Protests GIF by GIPHY NewsGiphy

All of this to say that a DNA test led me to look more into my culture in a way I hadn’t before. Being born in Puerto Rico and speaking Spanish despite my move to the US as a baby kept me closer in to my culture than many, but I still went through a dark period of attempted assimilation where I tried to stifle my culture to fit in better (something many are familiar with).

This DNA test served as a kind of proof that no matter how many times I was accused of “acting white” I had evidence I was Puerto Rican. Generations of my ancestors and my community existed, lived, and fought for me to be here and to find my voice through my story. Their efforts lived through me now: a real, certified descendent of theirs.

a photograph of Gloria Anzaldúa with a hat with the sea behind her

In the heart of the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, a beacon of hope and resilience was born. On September 26, 1942, Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa came into a world that wasn't quite ready for her. As a Chicana, a lesbian, and a feminist, Anzaldúa was set to challenge a predominantly Anglo-American and heteronormative society in a way that would forever change the discourse surrounding queer and Chicano identities.

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