Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Occupy Movement and Memories of Argentina

Ten years ago, middle class people in Argentina were streaming out into the streets to protest the economic system that had plunged them into poverty.

I was fortunate enough to have been there, witnessing and participating.

I remember one man, in one of the numerous neighborhood assemblies that we had, saying, "I predict that in ten years people in the United States will be doing the same thing."

I'll write more on this later, but for now, here is a link to an English website I ran covering the events of that time.

Friday, May 06, 2011

White with African Ancestry

(photos: three 'white' celebrities with confirmed or rumoured African ancestry: Lula Da Silva, President of Brazil. Heather Locklear, actress. Dwight D Eisenhower, former U.S. President.)

In my continued efforts to investigate my ancestry, I shelled out even more money to get my Dad’s genome tested with 23andme.

Part of this was to see if I could get more information on the oral tradition of Native American and “Black Dutch” ancestry on his side of the family. The website 23andme, in addition to telling you your paternal and maternal haplogroup and your likelihood for particular diseases and traits (“Yes you have blue eyes!”) has something called “Ancestry Painting” which will break your genome down into three ethnic groups: European, African, and Asian. It also goes a step further and give you your likelihood of having Native American ancestry in the past five generations.

So I look at my Dad’s ancestry painting and see this teentsy weentsy bit of orange Asian color sliced into his
blue Western European painting. The Native American Ancestry finder tells me this teentsy weentsy bit of orange “Asian” indicates my Dad could have a Native ancestor, but any ‘full-blood’ ancestor would probably not be any closer than a great-grandparent.

Which sounds about right to me, and fits in with when and where the tradition of Native ancestry started in my family tree. But the segment is so small I want to be sure it is not just statistical ‘noise” and send it off to a couple of genetic specialists, Dr. Doug McDonald and David W of the Eurogenes blog.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Both these guys, who do a much more detailed and precise scan than 23andme, tell me the “non-European” bit is not Asian or Native American, but African. David W ID’s the African as West African, and says because the rest of my Dad’s genome is Western European, he believe that it probably comes from “a distant African- American ancestor”.

“Your Dad?” says one friend. “He’s about as white as anybody could get without being an albino!”.

It’s true. My Dad looks like a perfect Celt--blue eyes, red hair, ruddy skin. And all this time--according to the ‘one-drop rule’-- he has been a black man passing for white.

But suddenly, with this bit of news, certain ‘suspect’ behaviors in my Dad’s otherwise French, English and Scots-Irish demeanor fall into place. I quickly go through the mental checklist: 1. the only white guy in the very white Southern California neighborhood I grew up in to stand up at a crowded and heated neighborhood meeting and argue for school integration, 2. wanted to take me to see Martin Luther King speak when I was a kid instead of letting me go off to play Barbie or Superman with my friends. 3. taught journalism at a black university. 4. worked as an editor for a black newspaper. 5. takes me to Leimert Park, a historically black neighborhood in Los Angeles, to chat with a woman who owns a store specializing in African-American history, instead of going to Disneyland or Universal Studios, 6. has a mother from a white Southern family who tells me when I am a teenager that she would disown me if I ever married any of the black boys I was then dating, but who spends almost her entire adult life living in Inglewood.

Very suspicious, all this. The call of the ancestors is louder than any one of us could imagine.

When I tell my “nearly Albino” Dad that he has that one drop, he just kind of shrugs his shoulders, not seeming the least surprised. My brother, another pale skinned red-head, says jokingly that this explains why I know how to dance. My sister, the dark haired, dark-eyed one in the family, says “I always knew I was part black!” remembering that in high school she always felt more comfortable with mixed race kids.

As for me, I now have another excuse besides my maternal Jewish lineage for my frizzy out of control hair being ‘not quite white’. And it has opened up a whole new set of questions for me. Like: how come so many white American people are looking for their Native ancestors but not their African ones? Is that “Cherokee Princess” that pops up in so many white Southern genealogies actually a light-skinned black person who needed an excuse for their complexion? Does this negate or just push further back in time any Native ancestry ( which I have been all along so certain of) that I may have? Who were my black ancestors and at what point did one of them make the decision to be white?

And: What does it say about our country’s historic obsession with racial and ethnic definition when a “white” person like me--who could pass for WASP-- turns out also to be Jewish, Native and African?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan and The Dream of Water, revisited

It seems like weeks since the Japanese earthquake and tsunami hit, yet it has really only been hours. It seems like weeks because it has been difficult to tear myself away from the news and videos about this tragedy...I feel as if I am living it,moment by moment, with them. Suddenly the people in Japan, a country I have never visited, feel like my next door neighbors.

I wanted to write about the combination of awe and horror and compassion that I experience when I see that wave of water washing through whole cities. But then I realized I already had--six years ago, when I sent an email out about a 'prophetic' dream I had before another Asian Tsunami.

So here it is, from January, 2005:


It is New Year's Day and we are surrounded by a tidal

On television and in our memories, the images
the rushing wall of water, the cars, buildings and
bodies floating in the swollen sea, fragile and
temporary as children's toys. The faces of pain, loss
and anguish are our faces. National boundaries are
dissolved, at least momentarily, as we send love,
financial support, healing.

Because my dreams are frequently wiser than I am, I
want to share a dream with you that I had about a week
before the Asian Tsunami hit.

In the dream I am on the beach with a group of
international students from the school where I teach
English as a Second Language. The students are from
all over the world. Suddenly a huge tidal wave
arrives and we are all running along the beach in
panic. I see something metallic floating in the water,
a vehicle of some kind. I think in my dream that it
could be some kind of military vehicle, like a car or
a plane or boat. It is clear to me that this vehicle
was made by man in a moment of self-importance, and it
is now utterly useless, bobbing helplessly along on
the water.

We all run away from the water and manage to reach
"higher ground." We are then all huddled inside a
room together, feeling fear but also deeply connected
to each other, and relieved that we are safe. One of
my Muslim students comes over to me, and I put my arm
around him, feeling a wave of love and compassion.

I woke up from this dream, asking, as I usually do of
dreams, what it was saying to me:

There is something more powerful than you, the dream
said. Maybe you should pay attention.

Your technology and the shiny vehicles that get you
through your life are useless in the face of this
power, the dream said.

It is the power of water, the dream said. it is
feminine, emotional, receptive, illogical,
mysterious, compassionate, ruthless, ferocious,
cleansing. It is running the blood of your veins and
in the ocean that links continent to continent. It is
the Tsunami and it is the wave of healing that

Maybe you should pay attention, the dream said.

It is the power of Mother Nature, the dream said,
seeking to balance all her elements, no matter how
horrific the sacrifice. With so many man-made fires
and explosions raging on the earth right now, it it
any wonder she chooses to respond with water?

Maybe you should pay attention, the dream said.

Look around you, the dream said, those people with
their different languages and religions are all
huddled in the same fragile room with you.

Find the person in the room who is most unlike you,
the dream said, the person who is supposed to be your
enemy, and reach out to him or her in compassion.

If there is a god, the dream said, he or she exists
not in the labels we have assigned, but in this
gesture, in this stretching of the heart.

You are alive, the dream of water said , and this is
a gift that can be taken away at any time.

Maybe you should pay attention.



Saturday, January 01, 2011

DNA Tribes and All My Relations

I finally broke down and decided to see what my DNA had to tell me, if anything, about my ancestry.

So I sent my spit to an organization called DNA tribes and they sent me back a chart with my DNA alleles as well as three lists that matched me with current global populations. The first list matched my DNA to "Native Populations" around the globe that have experienced little admixture with other peoples. Since I am pretty mixed up ancestrally, my scores that matched these 'pure blood' folks were pretty low. Some in the top twenty included the Russian Bashkir (#1), the Tatars (#2), the Russian Udmurts, the Scots, the Finns, the English, the Irish, the Italians of Umbria, and the Iranians.

I found only minimal matches to existing Native American tribes in their data base, the highest being the Inuit. Many tribes, like the Cherokee, are not included in the DNA Tribes data base. Also surprisingly low matching scores with Ashkenazi Jews, despite the fact that I am Ashkenazi Jewish through my mother's direct line.

The second list is the one that really broke open my conceptions of who my 'people' (or peoples) are. This matches your DNA with existing populations in the world who could be 'pure-blood' or mixed. These are my closest DNA 'relatives' in the world today.

#1 The Polish Tatars. I suppose with so many Northeast European and Central Asian Turkic people showing up (Tatars, Bashkirs, etc.) my mother's ancestral Jewish lineage must be heavily mixed with tribal peoples who ended up in Latvia, Poland, and elsewhere. Jewish Khazars? Conversions? Pogroms? Interbreeding? I may never know.

#2 European-Aboriginal Australians. Huh? I can't even begin to understand this one, though it certainly explains my unruly hair and why I love the didgeridoo. Did one of my "European" ancestors stop off in Australia and have a kid or two before he or she made their way to the United States? Or is DNA tribes just completely wacked out? Whatever. I have no problem embracing my Australian aboriginal cousins, mixed or not.

#3 Central Mexicans. Ja ja ja. Ahora entiendo porque he pasado tanto tiempo con los latinos. Yeah Spanish has come pretty easy to me and now I understand it's because so many latinos are my DNA cousins. Central Mexicans are basically European-American Indian mixed bloods, so this kind of fits in with the family tradition of Native ancestry, or at least fits in with the European-Asian mix that seems to be prevalent in my DNA. (Native American DNA apparantly shows up as "Asian" in the DNA ancestry world.)

#4. United States Caucasion. Well yeah, this is always what I THOUGHT i was when I was growing up as a little fair-skinned blue eyed white girl. And despite what everyone says about these people, I also accept them as my brothers and sisters in the human family. Some of my best friends are U.S. Caucasians, really.

#5. Canadian East Indians. Not East Indian East Indians mind you, but Canadian East Indians. I'm not sure why my DNA only matches highly with the immigrant Canadian East Indians and not with the East Indian East Indians. Is this because this is another bunch of immigrants who decided to mix their blood with the local people and produce some kind of mulatto mestizo mixed race mongrels who were then accepted back into their tribe? Why, how dare they? Dammit, if people would just stay within their borders and not have sex with foreigners life would be so much easier. And you wouldn't end up inflicting smart mouth mix-ups like me onto the world.

Again, my DNA matching so highly with East Indians is about as understandable as the match with Australians. All DNA tribes really told me was what I already knew--that I am an ancestral mutt, that no matter what tribal circle I am standing in I will always have one foot outside it. And that will be the foot that is looking for the larger circle.

Others in the top twenty were Maraicabo, Venezuela, Scotland, Italy, the Flemish, the Bashkirs and Udmurts again, more U.S. Caucasian groups and more European-Aboriginal Australian groups.

The third chart matches you with broader genetic groups called Regional Populations. Top Five Here were #1, Finno-Ugrian (Northeast Europe), #2 Northwest European, #3, Altaic (Central Asian Turkic people) #4 Mesopotamian (Iran, Iraq, etc.) #5 Eastern Europe. Seems to match the other charts. Other groups that showed up were Mestizo, Horn of Africa, Levantine, Mediteranean, and again, an uncharacteristically high match to Australian aboriginals for a US Caucasian person.

I shared all this info recently with a friend. "But it's too much!" He said. "Too many relatives!:

Indeed it is, I thought. One great big sprawling messy family of too many relatives.

We are the world.

Spirit of the Seventh Chakra

The chakra class I was teaching has ended, and the seventh chakra has been hanging over my head ever since.

Exactly where it belongs of course, since traditionally this is the chakra of the Crown, the chakra where spirit enters through the top of your head and ideally, fills you with its 'ineffable knowing.'

In traditions I've studied if this chakra is clear you walk with certainty and purpose and a sense of spirit within. Blocks and imbalances here might manifest as dysfunctional ideas about religion, attachments to gurus who really want your attachment more than your freedom, or a seventh chakra that is too wide open to all sorts of spiritual influences that cannot be practically grounded in your day to day life.

The Seventh Chakra has also been hanging over my head because although the class ended several weeks ago I have yet to post and write about it.

So here it is. Seems fitting to have waited until after the winter holidays, a time when many people throughout the world celebrate major religious holidays--Christmas, Hannukah, Winter Solstice. Interesting to me that in the northern hemisphere it is the darkest time of year when we are most drawn to celebrating spirit. (Actually in the south this is true too--the Incan honoring of the sun, Inti Raymi, is celebrated in June.)

The trap of any religion or spiritual 'system' seems to be its own dogma. So if you chance upon this blog and enjoy reading what I've posted about the chakras and the chakra class I've been teaching, be sure to print it out, read it carefully, then burn it and walk away.

Happy New Year.