SEEKING LIFE | The lessons of our DNA

As I circulated among the guests at the wedding reception for my oldest daughter in the 1990s, a woman told me: "You look like a Jew, but you act like an Italian." I didn't know how to respond then, but now I do because I have had my DNA analyzed.

All human beings, our DNA shows, have a common ancestor, born hundreds of thousands of years ago in Africa. From that single ancestor come all the races and all the ethnicities on the planet.

And as the Scriptures tell us, every human being is created in the image and likeness of God. There are no aliens among humans; everyone belongs here. For God, the concept of otherness does not exist; that is a fundamental category of human thought, which makes a stranger of the native, an enemy of the friend and them the "other" of "us."

Each human being represents not one ethnicity but many. My DNA shows I come from 17 genetic regions, including six in Europe, four in North America, three in Central and South America and four in Asia. We are thus citizens of the world, as it should be.

There is no place that we cannot call home; nowhere can we be called foreigners.

The planet Earth is our habitat, and, as the Scriptures tell us, all human beings have the right to migrate to find sustenance for themselves and their families. They have done precisely that for tens of thousands of years.

My male (Y) DNA traces back between 10,000 and 34,000 years to a region of Central Asia, between the Caspian Sea and the Hindu Kush. My female (X) DNA originated in Eurasia 30,000 years ago and was brought to the Americas by people we now call Native Americans, the first human inhabitants to settle there.

Still, the concept of the "other" remains strong. Hispanics in the United States have often been lumped into the category of "other." After the Mexican War in the 1840s, the United States annexed half of Mexico's territory, inhabited by 250,000 Native Americans and 75,000 people with at least some Spanish ancestry. Through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in 1848, these people, including my own ancestors, were granted U.S. citizenship. However, it soon became clear that many refused to accept Hispanics as equals.

But we all give something to one another. We celebrate our gifts to the nation, and mainly that we are still here, willing to embrace the "other," and contribute our diversity.

I am 49 percent European: 17 percent Iberian, 12 percent Irish, 12 percent Italian and Greek, and 2 percent each of British, European Jewish, Scandinavian and Eastern European ethnicity; 35 percent Native American; 7 percent North African; 5 percent Central Asian; 4 percent Middle Eastern; I am also Armenian, Syrian-Lebanese, Polynesian and Filipino.

Had I known all that at my daughter's wedding, I would have responded when told I looked like a Jew but acted like an Italian: "Of course, I am a Jew and an Italian — plus much more."

Sandoval is a columnist for the Seeking Life column for Catholic News Service. 

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