You know what? I’m done being Hispanic. I’ve had it. Here’s my membership card, my frequent-user points … I’m finished.
That’s not quite how the end of the road for my Hispanicness came around, but it did recently reach its conclusion. Here’s how.
Who do you think you are?
Hi. I’m a Martinez and have been since the day I was born. My father is a Martinez and his father, grandfather, and other ancestors are, too. Couple this with the fact that my mother is about as white as they come, and it’s easy to conclude that I’m a “halfer”—half white, half Hispanic.
That’s what I’ve spent most of my life believing, at least.
From 1967 to 2002, I lived primarily in southern California, where, in spite of my brown skin, was never considered Hispanic enough by Hispanics because, 1) I don’t speak Spanish, and 2) my mom is about as white as they come.
In 2002, my wife and I moved our family to Utah, where it quickly became evident that I was not considered white enough by whites because, 1) I have dark skin, and 2) … okay, there is no second point here. Dark skin is enough to convince people that I’m not white.
It’s weird. In California, where I was raised in a predominantly Hispanic community, I considered myself white. My mom had a big influence on my life and upbringing, and she’s white. The people I went to church with? Mostly white. My teachers at school? White. My coaches? White. Oh! And one Asian. (Sorry, Coach Nitta!)
This self-perception amused my Hispanic friends because there I was, a brown Martinez who didn’t speak Spanish and thought he was white. Some of my friends’ parents seemed annoyed when I’d come to visit and wouldn’t be able to understand what they were saying to me in Spanish.
Fast forward to 2002. All of a sudden, I’m a brown man living in a predominantly white community. My Hispanicness became evident to me more than ever and I started thinking of myself as a Hispanic after 35 years of identifying most with my white heritage.
I settled into this new self-perception and started to feel secure in who I was: a halfer who, because of his skin color, would be perceived (by myself and by others) as a Hispanic for the rest of his days. I even started trying to teach myself Spanish! (Thanks for the lessons, DuoLingo.)
Then, a DNA test entered my life last year.
DNA=Does Not Apply
I resisted taking a DNA test for a long time because I didn’t see the value or purpose in taking one. I mean, why does it matter where my ancestors came from? Where they wound up is what really matters.
Eventually, I decided to take a DNA test because my wife convinced me that it would be good for our children to know something about their lineage since we hadn’t exposed them to much of their Hispanic cultural heritage.
So, I spat in Ancestry’s little vial, put it in the mail, and waited for the results, which arrived in mid-October 2018.
The proof is in the DNA pudding
After 51 years of believing one thing—that I was a halfer—you can imagine my surprise when the DNA results showed that I am nearly 80 percent white and 20 percent Native American. The Native American part was no surprise (I expected it because of oral family history and because Native American blood is common in Hispanics living in the U.S.), but how much Native American is in my DNA was surprising.
Here’s the part that floored me: according to the test, there’s no evidence of Spanish in my DNA. There is, however, one percent of me that’s Portuguese, which my wife thinks is the same as Spanish, but I’m not convinced. For argument’s sake, let’s say that Portuguese is the same as Spanish; one percent isn’t nearly enough to make me Hispanic.
So, in an instant, who I thought I was my entire life turned out to be untrue. For some reason, this agitated me and caused feelings of confusion.
I thought maybe I was adopted. Not possible. The DNA results linked me to my father’s sister and my mother’s brother as immediate family. Then my brother took the test and his results linked him directly to me with nearly the exact same breakdowns.
I’ve spent the past few months mulling over and digesting what this all means and I think I’ve come to a peaceful conclusion.
At the end of the day
What matters more than anything is that I am a son of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ. Everything after that pales in comparison. Whether I’m Hispanic, white, Native American, Martian, or whatever, at my core, I’m a sum of my experiences regardless of ethnicity or DNA findings.
I’ve come to the realization that DNA results are filling a need that’s inherent in human beings: a desire to belong and feel connected. I think that inherency is put there by God who wants us to feel a kinship (Malachi 4:6) to our ancestors and so that we won’t forget them and the sacrifices they’ve made on our behalf.
So how do I perceive myself now, post-DNA test? I’m still trying to sort that out. I am sure, however, that no matter where my lineage descends from, my Father in Heaven loves me and ultimately wants me to turn to Him and His Son for a sense of belonging and connection.
That said, I also feel it in my heart that there’s a reason that the pull of wanting to know and belong to our ancestry is so strong. Because I believe that this desire is divine in nature, I will embrace it and follow where it leads.