Nov 2, 2013

Journey to myself – 23andme, before DNA sequencing results (Part 1)

I feel that my life is about to change. I can not shake this feeling of excitement to finally and truly have genetic evidence of my roots. As a Colombian I am privileged to be racially mixed, within me rest the history of three branches of the human tree separated by many thousands of years of evolution and thousands of kilometers. I am the Native American, I am the men and woman that journeyed through Eurasia and ventured across the Bering Strait still through the ice age, fighting mammoth, frozen oceans and walls of ice 15000 years ago. I am the Spaniard conquistador, mounting horses and firing muskets, I am Cervantes and Don Quixote. I am the black slaves shipped from Africa, robbed of my humanity and retaken, I am cimarron and cumbia. I am a mix of Native American, Spanish, and African, both genetically and culturally, and I hope to confirm this with the genetic analysis.

My DNA ready to be shipped across the world

Previous genetic studies in Colombian mestizos have shown that we are about 60% Spanish, 30% Native American, and about 10% African... I have no reasons to believe I am different to that, but I am prepared for surprises. I want to find out if I can narrow my ancestry to a particular genetic group in Spain... is there a bit of North African in me due to the invasion of the Moors? What tribes of Colombia's Native Americans my Indian ancestry is from, is it Zenú, Embera, or Muisca? I may not get such detailed information, but I believe I have access to the raw DNA sequence data, so I may be able to do a few searches of my own.

Some Colombian families take pride in believing that they are 100% Spanish. Some other Colombian families reject their Spanish ancestry and express much hate because of the aftermath of the conquest. My families are a true example of this, on my mom's side they believe there is no Native American blood flowing through their veins and are outraged by the idea of a native ancestor. Many times I heard them take pride in the fact that in my grandfather's family there was a lot of inbreeding, they would say things like, “my dad last name was Londoño Londoño, we are pure Spanish, because they used to get married between cousins since they arrived to Colombia...” as if that was something good. On the other hand many times I heard my father express his despise for Spain, taking pride by saying that they have more facial features that resemble the Native American, and yet both mom and dad are unmistakably mestizos.

I am sure that if every child was aware of his or her true genetic ancestry, such kind of stupid believes that give rise to discrimination and oppression would not persist for centuries, as they have evidently persisted after hundreds of years since colonial times. This is particularly problematic when that kind of people achieve positions of power.

The other good thing about 23andme's service is that they will screen for my risk of developing some genetically inherited conditions or diseases, this range from lactose intolerance and boldness, to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson's, to some forms of cancer.

Very recently and very tragically my uncle (on my mom's side) passed away overcome by a rare form of cancer in his small intestine, he was only 52 years old. However, this is not the first time this has happened in my family, I already lost another uncle to prostate cancer and another one to liver cancer, both of them did not reach 60 years old. My grandfather (their dad) also died of cancer in the throat and it seemed that he lived as well with some form of skin cancer... he died around 75 years old or so. On my dad's side also an uncle died very young of lung cancer. So it makes me wonder whether I am at a higher risk for cancer than the average population, and whether I carry some bad mutations in my genome.

Thus, I can not wait until I have my results. Even if I am surprised with a higher risk of developing a severe disease later on in life, it is better to be mentally prepared even if there is nothing I can do. In any case, there is something I can always do, to enjoy every single second of this fragile life: fragile and ephemeral like evening dew and morning frost.

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