When I was growing up in Spokane, most of the kids I went to school with, including me, were white. Yet we all played this weird little game where we asked what "nationality" we all were.
Somehow that became a small part of our identity. For me, my mom's side of the family was French. My dad's side was Italian. I told my friends I was "half-French and half-Italian." This, I was told by others, made sense. I was told it showed up in my olive-tinted white skin and the tendency for my thick brown hair to curl. I was told it showed up in my temperament, my competitiveness and my stubbornness.
My heritage became something like a horoscope. I could make any distinct trait fit if I tried hard enough.
But like horoscopes, it was mostly just a way to make me feel unique. And that same urge is driving the popularity of genetic testing companies like 23 and Me.
I asked for a 23 and Me kit for my birthday so I could learn where exactly my ancestors came from (and if I carry any gene variants that could impact my health). The results were mostly unsurprising. Italian showed up the strongest, at 35 percent of my composition, followed by French, Balkan and broadly southern European. Apparently two percent is "Western Asian & North African." And I have more Neanderthal in me than most, which really only shows up in the fact that I don't have much back hair — thank god, right?
It's interesting, to me, and I'm glad I did it. But after a week of telling people my results to unenthusiastic responses, I thought, why do I care so much? More importantly, why should anyone else?
Most who started reading this likely haven't made it this far, because learning the genetic makeup of some random person is very boring. I might as well have listed the players on my fantasy football team.
It would be more interesting to tell people what I always used to tell people: I'm half-Italian, half-French. My great grandparents on my dad's side moved here from Italy decades ago and my dad was raised in a Los Angeles household that held onto many Italian customs and traditions. My mom grew up in Chicago. They met in Spokane.
That says more about how I turned out than tracing back my DNA to which Neanderthal hooked up with which Homo sapien way back when. ♦