Am I Mexican?

Canadians are universally lovely, so you have to collect a few of them. You should also keep at least one New Yorker in your circle because they’ll be able to deal with conflict at the Post Office, should it occur.

I love boxes because they help me to order the people I meet, and avoid anyone distasteful.

That’s why I’m always curious which ethnic and national box the average stranger slots me into. Taking into account all the Guess Who elements that make up my face, where do these people think I’m from? Over the years, I’ve been Mexican. I’ve been Japanese. I’ve been Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. One evening, I was even an Eskimo. And when I’ve had too much to drink, I claim to be Australian.

Despite this, I’ve always known my truth: I’m Maori and I’m from New Zealand.

That was “true” until this morning when science tore down my belief system with irritating facts and inconvenient truths. I spit in a cup and had my DNA analysed via 23andMe so that – with a confidence level of 75% – I could say I am:

  • 42.2% European (15.7% British and Irish)
  • 32.2% South East Asian (including – oddly – 0.1% Native American, which may explain why I look Mexican to some people)
  • 12% Oceanian

For the math wizards amongst you, that leaves a fair amount of genetic change from all over the rest of the world.

So much of my identity is locked into New Zealand and being Maori. This result left me wondering: “Who am I?”

The test doesn’t recognise geographic or cultural boundaries. In fact, it says that my maternal ancestors spread from Taiwan 9,000 years ago and my paternal ancestors from New Guinea and Melanesia 3,000 years ago to make the “Maori” that I know today.

What I came to realise after some cogitation and helpful social media therapy is that our long-ago ancestors aren’t nearly as important as the people who raised us and cared for us. Nor is that as important as the people we choose to become – be that an angry Canadian or a conflict avoiding New Yorker. The whole point of this was summarised beautifully by my friend Grant when he wrote:

“Identity is formed after birth through language, meaning and culture. So your spit told you where and how the little lego blocks that make Murray were formed and you tell us what a Murray is… If the same lego blocks were assembled in Columbia and named Maurizio, you’d look the same but you’d speak Spanish and wear polo shirts with tufts of hair sticking out the neck… You’d still be ‘fabulous’ though.”

I’m not sure ‘fabulous’ is part of the Lego blocks that I was reviewing this morning but I’ve got a good idea what colour they’d be if they were.


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