My mother is my cousin. My granny is my aunt.
Now that we’ve gotten that broken the ice, I want to explain something to you: I come from a family of resilient and supportive people, who will do anything in the name of love. When I was a little biscuit and my mother became ill, her sister took over my primary care because she had a young daughter at the time who could help her out. Because I was around nine months and everything looked like moving blobs, I didn’t know who was who. So I’ve always known these women as my mom and grandmother because that’s exactly who they are.
As I grew up, there was never much talk about my father. Even before my mother’s passing when I was nine, she never made him a focal point of any conversation and neither did anyone else. I knew my dad as this man named Rob, who looked nothing like me, and all I can remember is that he looked like his beard could have used some grooming. While we’re on the subject of looking like our parents…
If you put my mother and Rob together, I would NOT be the product. Granted, my mother and I have the exact same nose and mouth, but no resemblance to my father. I didn’t think too much into it, because I’m black, and as we know, we come in all sorts of shades, and I was always told traits often skip generations. But then there’s the subject of my mother being the color of warm, black coffee. Oh, and Rob being EXACTLY THE SAME.
If you don’t recall what I look like, I’m the color of a beige Crayola crayon, and that’s only if I have a tan. In my Michigan heydays, I was pretty pale. And I have a shade of green eyes that have scared several individuals throughout history. Although African-Americans come in various hues, something told me humankind has;t been on Earth long enough for those two people to create what stares back at me in the mirror everyday.
So one day, years ago, I sat my granny down and we had the following conversation:
Me: “Granny, Can I ask you a question?”
Granny: “Yes, Princess, of course. ”
Me: “So you know how you guys told me that Rob was my father?”
Me: “He’s not really my father, is he?”
Granny: “No, sweetie.”
Me: “And, um… am I white?”
Granny: (pause)…”Yes, you are.”
I KNEW IT. The first thing I thought was I knew my corny joke-telling had to come from somewhere! After I was done with the nervous humor, I was basically told that my mother dated my father, but was very private about who he was, so much that only a few of her sisters knew him and because they all have passed away, it would be nearly impossible for me to ever learn his identity. I eventually tried to get over it because hey, I’m an adult and I know who I am already, blah, blah, blah. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself for the past 15 years.
“Kind of” knowing that I was bi-racial did stir something up in my personality, and I cannot explain it to this day. I felt exhilarated to check more than one box on government forms, and it was like I was given free rein to start listening to Evanesence and Linking Park. It has gotten to a point that my best friend and I are often referred to as “Ebony & Ivory”- but I’m Ivory (she has a weird affinity for trap music). On top of that, I’ve always been asked “What am I?”, and when I say “Michigander”, it’s never been enough for people. Depending on how tan I am at the time, I will be referred to as Black, White, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Jamaican-Chinese, or Haitian, on any given day. I’ve been spoken to in so many languages, that I wonder if I should really master Espanol.
Awhile back, a friend of mine told me about a genetic DNA test he did, which detailed his ethnicity, broken down by regions. The company requested a DNA sample and once it was processed, they would be able to tell you what country of origin your DNA derived from, down to a percentage. For example, you could find out you were 45% South African, 35% German, and 20% bad-ass. He really piqued my curiosity after he excitedly told me his results showed him to be 2% black (“where it counts”, were his exact words). He said I should check it out, and I was excited to know that I could soon know what made up my other half. I put it off for a while, but a recent surge in my curiosity had me up at 2 am on my Macbook a few weeks back, entering my credit card number into the Ancestry DNA website. After receiving the kit in the mail, I followed the instructions to fill up a test tube with saliva (bubbles not included), send it back to the lab, and about 6-8 weeks later, BOOM- I would find out if I really did have a little cream in my coffee. I still was uncertain about the results, as I did prepare myself to find out what I already knew- I was my mother’s daughter and there was nothing else to it. I’m just made up of my mama’s wonderful blackness, and I just happened to come in another color that left many to wonder what fire station I was left at. Oddly enough, on the same day I celebrated my late mother’s 69th birthday, I received an email from Ancestry DNA, 4 weeks earlier than I expected. I stopped everything and opened the email, as nervous as one of the guys on Maury Povich who were always 100% sure. The results were in and…
“When it comes to 36-year-old Michelle, Poland, you ARE the father!”
Um, what????? I was staring at my own personal pie chart, that broke down my DNA by region and the numbers were as follows: 49% Eastern European, 18% Cameroon/Congo, 11% Ivory Coast/Ghana, and the rest divided up in smaller percentages across 8 other regions outside of the Americas. I cried my eyes out for a time, as the emotion of the discovery poured over me. With Michigan being home to one of the largest communities of Polish people in the United States, I knew that’s what my father was, as opposed to Romainian, Ukranian or even Russian. I mean, I know I can do a pretty impeccable Russian accent, but apparently my desire for pierogis and paczkis is deep in my blood. I ended up sharing this information with people, and I received many interesting reactions. I’m not kidding, but these are some of the reactions I got:
“I knew you were whiter than anything”
“That explains a lot”
“Maybe you should tell people you’re Russian instead”
“Oh, your babies are going to be cute”
“When you come home, we’ll take you to Hamtramck to be with your people”
“You do buy everyone those Polish donuts on Fat Tuesday- don’t they have liquor in them?”
“Um, this means you’ll being more of those things next year, right?”
After the laughter subsided from the hilarious and thinly veiled racism, I sat pondering my new-found identity. My heart has been racing ever since Friday when I got the results, and I haven’t been able to stop. I would be lying if I said I was still the same woman, because I’m not. I have this urge to go and say hello from the other side. I have even been distracted while finishing this post, because I’ve been stalking Google, looking up “Polish” and “Poland” every 10 minutes. Should I find a festival coming to town? Would they even come near Miami? Should I get a t-shirt or something? By the end of my burst of curiosity and need to display my newly discovered heritage, I’ll look like Prince Hakeem and Simi from Coming to America when they visited the NYC souvenir shop.
Tales from this journey will be continued…
-KEEP IT A HOT MESS