- Yasmeen Hossain
"Where Are you From?"
Updated: Aug 19, 2019
Excerpt from my upcoming book "Ancestors of Spirit, Ancestors of Blood - A Tale of Belonging"
Where do I belong? That is a question I have grappled with for most of my life. My multi-racial genes and bi-continental upbringing have left me confused, always feeling like an outsider in my own skin. My father is Bengali, my mother German, I was born and raised in Switzerland for half of my life, and then the US for the other half. I often leave people feeling exasperated when I try to answer the dreaded question “Where are you from?”
The conversation typically goes something like this:
Person: “Where are you from?”
Me: “I live in the States.”
Person: “But where are you from-from?”
Me: “Well, I was born in Switzerland.”
Person: [Puzzled look surveying my brown skin and dark hair. Something is not
computing right.] “But what is your nationality?”
Person: "Huh," [puzzled look. Maybe she doesn’t speak English well and doesn’t
know what ‘nationality’ is?] “So you are from Germany?”
Me: “Not really, I never lived in Germany or anything.”
Person: Puzzled look increases tenfold. “But originally where are you from?”
Me: “Uhm… let’s see, if I go back to my origins, then I’d have to say I’m from my
When I turned 24 my parents presented me with the National Georgraphic Geonome project kit – test your DNA to find out where your family is from!
To me this kit held the promise of belonging. Finally finding out where I belong, by having scientific proof of what geographic location I can claim as my own.
Full of anticipation I held the cotton swap up to my mouth, swapped the side of my cheek furiously, and then spat a little bit into the test tube for good measure. I sealed the envelope and sent it off! Anxiously I waited for the results, every day I check the mail box, and after only 30 times checking the mailbox, my results were finally in!
With shaky hands I open the envelope, found my code, and logged in to the website. As the browser was downloading the world map of my ancestral lineage, I read the fine print. Probably should have done that before taking the test. It turns out this DNA test only tracks my female lineage, because all females, not just me, don’t carry a Y chromosome in our DNA. The Y chromosome is the one that carries all the DNA information from the paternal lineage. Essentially, this means with this type of DNA test, I am only able to trace my maternal lineage, and not only that but only the female lineage on my maternal side – so my grandmother, my great-grandmother, her mother, and so on.
Well, that feels a bit like I’m being cheated – I’m not only my female ancestors’ product, it took some male handiwork as well to produce my genetic make-up.
Finally, the browser window loads, I click on the map, and see a host of migration lines, starting in Germany. I follow the lines backwards in time, the line dives into Poland, swirls around Eastern Europe, eventually making its way into the Arabian Peninsula, more swirling, down into Northern Africa, a long black arrow in the Eastern direction, and finally lands in East Africa.
Bam! I’m originally from East Africa! Wait...I’m African??
A thousand thoughts gallop through my mind, what have my Polish great-great-great grandmothers been up to, how did the Polish and the African get mixed?? And then slowly it dawns on me… of course, East Africa is the cradle of civilization – aren’t we ALL from East Africa??
I slap my hand on my forehead. That’s not new information, I could have looked in a history book to gain that knowledge, surely my parents didn’t need to spend money on a DNA kit for that tidbit of information.
If ultimately, all of humanity originated in one place of the globe, be it northern or eastern Africa, somewhere in Africa anyway, then what is the point of separating out ancestral lineages?
Maybe it doesn’t matter what happened after our ancestors left Africa, maybe all that matters is that we all started in the same place. Our origin. We are all related to each other, the entire human race.
The same holds true from a creationist perspective, where we all descend from Adam and Eve, that would still make us all relatives.
No matter which way you turn it, I am related by DNA to every single human on this planet. Those that stand in the light and are easy to love as well as those that stand in the dark and may be a little harder to feel love for.
Doesn’t matter, though, I care about what happens to each and every one of them, afterall they are my cousins 3 billion times removed!
Maybe from now on, when someone asks me where I am from, I will simply say: “Africa. Aren’t we all?”
Hope you enjoyed this little excerpt from my upcoming book "Ancestors of Spirit, Ancestors of Blood - A Tale of Belonging." Sign-up to be kept in the loop about the release date, how to get your hands on it, book readings, and other juicy details!