Growing up mixed race, having an identity crisis was inevitable. My mum, a white New Zealand national, was the only parent I’d ever consistently had. My dad, who was Black Jamaican, was never a part of my life.
For a long time, I struggled with being ‘in-between’ ethnicities. Trying to understand my family tree on my dad’s side was like trying to draw blood from a stone. Various ethnicities and names popped up; Cuban, Jamaican, other Caribbean islands, other influences – but I never got the same answer twice. The older I got, the more I realised that I had to cultivate my own connection with my ethnic heritage, my own way. Now, I celebrate being mixed race, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel totally and utterly complete. But that doesn’t mean I’m not still curious…
I’d pondered doing a DNA test for a while – but when the opportunity came up, a part of me didn’t want to know. Sure, when I was a teenager, I would’ve jumped at the chance. But now? I’m happy with who I am as a person, and I feel connected enough to my heritage on both sides. I worried that a DNA test would undo all my years of hard work spent loving myself, and immersing myself in Caribbean culture. After a proper think, I decided to go for it. What did I have to lose?
Was I prepared for the ethnic identity that I’d spent years cultivating and accepting to be potentially stripped away? Most importantly, did it even matter what my ‘actual’ ethnicity was?
I panicked that I wouldn’t recognise my results. That my ethnic makeup wouldn’t be compatible with the woman I saw in the mirror. Nevertheless, my curiosity alluded my cold feet and before I knew it, I was in the post office, sending off my cheek swabs to a lab overseas.
The results took so long to arrive that I’d all but forgotten about them before I received an e-mail on a hot Monday morning telling me to log in to my DNA account. A few seconds later, there they were:
- 25% Nigerian
- 18% Sierra Leonian
- 24% English
- 8% Indian
- 6.7% Greek
- and then smaller percentages of Kenyan, Finnish, Scottish, and Central African
I stared at the results with my mouth open, before uttering “what the hell?”. My mind quickly filled up with questions. Why is the percentage of Indian so small, considering my maternal grandma is quarter Indian? Why am I so English when my ancestors emigrated to New Zealand from Scotland? And where on earth did that Greek come from?
A wave of intrigue came over me. I felt satisfied with the ethnicity I’d inherited from my dads side. It made total sense; Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana – these countries were slave and trading ports. Most Caribbeans descend from West Africa, as well as a whole bunch of other countries.
My mums side, however, made me feel a little more confused. As far as I knew, my grandads family emigrated from Scotland to New Zealand generations back. On my grandma’s side, my great great grandfather made the journey to New Zealand from Pakistan to escape the violence of Partition in the 40’s. But where did this Greek come from?
The tricky thing with ethnicity is that you only know what you’re told. Even now, with these results in front of me, my questions remained the same as before. Who were my ancestors? Talking to my grandparents about their ethnic heritage was a sensitive topic, considering my grandma and her mum endured relentless racism growing up as a brown family in New Zealand. My mum and I decided to leave it, and probe when the time was right.
When the dust settled and I’d taken some time to process my results, I felt overwhelmingly positive about the experience. I was adamant not to let my results change me, and the peace I’d made with being of immediate Caribbean and Kiwi descent – but for a long time, I thought that slavery and colonisation meant my ethnic heritage could only be traced so far back. My ancestors and how they crossed continents, endured violence and exuded bravery in a time of British domination. Badass? Heck yeah.
Above all, I realised that I am whoever I want to be. My eclectic ethnic heritage means I am a chameleon, and I feel connected to so many different cultures. I’m just a part of a constantly evolving story, and that’s pretty darn amazing.