My Colorful Ethnicity: Walking Both Sides of the Racism Line

Today I watched a powerful video of an event last night (June 18, 2020) in North Phoenix. I was blown away by the heartfelt, very personal accounts each speaker told of their experience with racism. I felt compelled to tell my story of walking on both sides of the line.

I’m Puertorican. I was born in Puerto Rico to Puertorican parents of Spanish and Portuguese decent. At 2 and a half years old, in 1957, my parents decided to move to New York. My father went first to secure a job and an apartment in the Bronx, then sent for my mom and me. I remember that as the neighborhoods started getting “bad”. We kept moving until we moved all the way north, out of the city.

Me and mom on Easter Sunday circa 1960. I think we lived above the TV repair shop in the background.

Our second apartment in the Bronx, on Bruckner Blvd., was a nice middle-class co-op. We lived on the 15th floor with a northern view that included Yankee Stadium to the east. I remember every 4th of July, kneeling on the couch watching the fireworks over the city.

A girl in my class, Paula, lived on the 10th floor of my building. I liked her. We were friends. One day her mother invited me over for dinner. I asked my mom and she said, no. Then she added, that she didn’t want me hanging out with her at all. This is first grade.

At that time, I just did what my mom said. Who was I to argue. However, years later, after I graduated college and we moved back to Puerto Rico, she told me not to date guys with “kinky hair” or as we say in PR, “pelo malo” (bad hair). Rebel that I was, I dated not 1 but 2 guys that matched that description. I remember one day, one of them asked me to go out on a Sunday afternoon. I told him that I had to go to my cousin’s kid’s baptism at my aunt’s house. He asked me if he could come. I shook my head, “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” I told him.

He asked me, “Why? Because of…” and he touched his arm pointing to his black skin.

I replied, “Yeah, sorry.”

I felt so bad. The rebel in me should have taken him to the party and let the whispering and looks happen. But no, I was a good girl and went to the party alone.

Mom

So, my mom was a racist, a bigot, prejudice. My dad, wasn’t. He was in sales, so he had to be nice to everyone who walked in the store. I don’t think I ever heard a prejudice word from him.

Mom passed away this past Christmas. I hate speaking ill of the dead, but it’s true. And all this that’s happening in America right now, brought it all up again.

The Other Side of the Line

In high school, it was a different story. We were about an hour north of New York City in a small town (at that time) called, Chester. We lived in a nice middle-class development about a mile and a half north of town. Our house was at the top of a cul-de-sac hill with a nice view.

In school, kids thought I was Italian — brown hair, brown eyes, light skin. When I said, “No, I’m Puertorican.”

They responded with, “You don’t look Puertorican.”

I then asked, “What does a Puertorican look like?” That shut them up.

On occasion, I was bullied and called “Spic”.

I just ignored them. I never however, — that I know of — was discriminated against because of my foreign-sounding name. I just know that people had a hard time spelling it.

DNA, Ethnicity and a Colorful Mosaic

In doing research for my novel, I became a history buff. I was fascinated with the Ancient Roman Empire and how they ruled all of Europe including Hispania — the Iberian Peninsula — where some of my ancestors came from.

Last year, I took advantage of the sale that Ancestry.com has for Father’s Day and got my DNA tested. I was curious. I was sure that I had Italian blood in me. I was really surprised when I got the results back! No Italian, but a wild mixture of everything else.

Updated DNA results from Ancestry.com.

I have written about my ancestry before, but this is an updated DNA profile. My mother would have freaked! Her precious, pure, Spanish heritage was not so pure after all! I did some more research. Here’s how I think it all played out. The smaller the percentage, the further back in your family tree it is.

Hispania – the Iberian Peninsula

Spanish and Portuguese are about equal in my DNA, combined to 72%. Portugal was not its own country until 1492. At that point, they had their own language, which to me sounds like a mixture of Spanish, French and Italian. My last name is Portuguese — Aguiar — not Aguilar — which is the Spanish version.

Yes, 1492. Columbus actually went to the king of Portugal first to get financing for his voyage west, but was unsuccessful. As history shows, he was financed by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain. My paternal grandmother’s maiden name is Colon — which is Columbus in Spanish. I tried to trace my lineage to see if I was related to Chris, but no luck.

One of my great grandfathers was born in Galicia, Spain — a Celtic cultural stronghold. The Celts where all over Europe. They even ended up in what’s now Turkey, in Galatia, the church to whom Paul wrote his letter. That explains the 14% Irish/Scottish/English/Wales combination.

In doing research on the Celts, the Vikings came up, they were all over Western Europe, too. That explains the Norwegian 1%.

The Basque are an interesting mix of the French and Spanish cultures. I traced one of my paternal ancestors back to a doctor with a French name who decided to take advantage of the free land they were giving away in Puerto Rico just before the Spanish American War. He or his wife may have had Basque ancestry.

The Jewish 1% has to be Sephardic Jews who came from Israel when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD — or before then. Many of them were the first Christians in Hispania that Paul talked about visiting in his letter to the Romans.

Now we get to Senegal and North Africa. In the 700s, the Moors invaded Spain and conquered all except a small area of the north and where Galicia is in the northwest corner. That explains the 1% North African. What about the 2% Senegal?

Ah, that’s where it starts getting interesting. As the Portuguese and Spanish colonies were being populated, people were needed to work the plantations on the islands. The indigenous peoples, the Taino Indians, in this case, were hard to enslave because they kept running away and since they knew the islands, it was hard to catch them.

That’s when the African slave trade started in the Americas and the Portuguese were big in the industry. Now, it doesn’t surprise me that these mostly white guys found these dark-skinned women attractive. Hmm. I’m leaving it there.

Everyone Should get Their DNA Tested

I bet some surprises will come up. I didn’t tell my mom about the DNA results. I knew she wouldn’t believe them.

As I watch the video embedded below, something Kevin said hit home. “My tribe is of Christ Jesus.”

Yes! All Christians belong to ONE FAMILY! We are all Children of God.

A few months ago, I got a call from the local blood bank where I donate regularly. They needed my blood in specific to help a baby with sickle cell anemia because I had a certain atigen. Now, that is a disease mostly affecting black people. I wonder if that 2% Senegal and 1% North African DNA factored in. God only knows.

But that makes me think. All these people married and had kids, who married and had kids — on and on till my parents married and had me in Puerto Rico. I think about a mosaic design. It’s starts out with broken pieces of colored ceramic. Then the artist, places them in a pattern to make a beautiful work of art like the picture on top.

God is the artist.

Yet no one calls on your name
    or pleads with you for mercy.
Therefore, you have turned away from us
    and turned us over to our sins.

And yet, O Lord, you are our Father.
    We are the clay, and you are the potter.
    We all are formed by your hand.
Don’t be so angry with us, Lord.
    Please don’t remember our sins forever.
Look at us, we pray,
    and see that we are all your people.

Isaiah 64:7-9 NLT

Here’s that video I mentioned. Watch it please.

Soli Deo Gloria — to God Alone be the Glory!

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