March 25, 2019

What Your DNA Can't Tell You

“When I was growing up, someone was always asking a member of our family, “Where are you from?” Usually, it was my mother. She has high cheekbones, deep, wide-set eyes and light brown skin with prominent freckles.

Since we grew up in an area with a small black population, her appearance drew more notice than I think it would have elsewhere. Whoever was asking usually wanted to claim her as their own.

Once, my sisters, our mother and I were in an epic, four-way fight in the car while holiday shopping. As our mother steered us out of the parking garage, the lot attendant waved her payment away. He was from Ethiopia and assumed she was too. He complimented her on what a great mother she must be — our windows had been rolled up, so he hadn’t heard the yelling.

I don’t look like my mother. When I was younger and people asked, “Where are you from?” they usually wanted confirmation of my West Indian heritage. “My dad is from Barbados,” is how I usually answered the question of why I had the face I had.”

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