Thursday, February 19, 2009
Interesting article in the newspaper this morning about the actor Isaiah Washington. The real story behind the article is the DNA testing that we can all access to discover our ancestral roots. This seems to be especially important to African-Americans, helping them connect to their African nations of origin. And some, including Washington, have taken the further step of becoming a dual citizen of the US and and their country of origin in Africa.
I've been trying to imagine what that would be like for me. I have done quite a bit of family history research and have a fair idea where most of my DNA would come from. I can trace my ancestors in Canada back to the mid-1700's. They came from Scotland and Germany for reasons mostly of economy. They came willingly, in a way, but I'm sure would rather have stayed in their home countries if it had been possible. However, I can't equate their experience with that of the African victims of the slave trade. Nor do I have the long history of segregation that has formed their experience.
And that probably is responsible for a huge difference in how I think about my ancestry. But I was imagining having scientific proof that I came from a family of crofters in the north of Scotland. I already know that I have roots there but now I could have proof which narrows the focus. Do I immediately feel a great kinship with others still living there? Not really.
And here's why. In those intervening 250 years, there have been many other strands of DNA added to my ancestral mix. I have ancestry from Ireland, Britain, and France, as well as those ancient Scots and Germans. Wouldn't that be the case with an African-American whose ancestors came to America as slaves? Some came long before my many-greats grandparents and so there's even more dilution. How can you fully identify with any country after all that time? Or is it just an emotional thing? And if that's the case why wait for DNA testing? Just pick a country that resonates with your values and goals.
I understand that there is a screening process in some of the African countries when applying for a dual citizenship. But, if high profile (and frequently well-off) Americans are asking to be citizens, who would turn them down? Mr. Washington has brought economic aid into his adopted country. I see a trend here. It's not a bad thing but it is interesting. Having just worked on the issue of fund raising with the seniors' association, this seems like a win-win scheme for all concerned.
I'm guessing that even if I wanted to have a dual citizenship with Scotland it wouldn't be guaranteed. Perhaps if I were to indulge my fiber passion by raising lots of sheep and create many jobs?