About eight years ago, my father was in and out of hospitals and rehabs. During one of my brother’s visits, he noticed my dad’s appearance was on the unkempt side. He bought an electric razor and scissors and got his grooming up to par. My dad was grateful, and in keeping with his habit of blowing up touching moments, said this: “Thank you. It’s really great of you to do this, especially since I don’t think you’re my son.”
It seems my dad, upon looking upon my brother for 40 years or so, noticed a darker, Mediterranean complexion, and factored the troubled period in his marriage, his own infidelities and the legendary lasciviousness of the 1970s to conclude that there existed the possibility my brother was not his son. I write these words with love: For someone who was so smart, my dad could be so obtuse.
As you might expect, this instantly precipitated an identity crisis for my brother, who could not be reassured. To settle the question, my mother purchased (for my birthday!) a then-not-inexpensive DNA test kit. Long-story short, the results demonstrated with 100 percent accuracy that my father is my brother’s father.
The test did bring up an interesting chapter in an emerging narrative in the country of my parents’ birth, Argentina. Recent research has found that colonial Spain transported hundreds of thousands of African slaves in the establishment of the resource-rich colony, and 19th century Argentine leaders covered it up. The established history was that Europeans with the “help” of a subjugated native population built the resource-rich country. After digging into old Spanish census records, it was found that African descendants made up 37 percent of the population of 18th century Argentina. As the 19th century progressed, the country stopped counting racial information, altered the narrative and promoted its “European-ness” with great success. Immigration from Europe transformed the capital of Buenos Aires to the sixth most populous city of the world in 1947. Maybe the origin story would have stuck were it not for irrefutable DNA relics. According to a genetic study conducted by a Brazilian university, 9 percent of Argentinians possess African ancestry.
My genetic test shows that while 91 percent of my DNA is very, very white, there is a small part — .5 percent – that is of West African descent. Working backwards exponentially, that translates to eight or nine generations, or roughly 200 years ago, which lines up with what civil rights activists and researchers in Argentina are saying.
When I brought this up to my own mother, she had a hard time resolving the evidence with the European origin story she was taught years ago. DNA doesn’t lie, but the foundations of old origin stories are tough to shake. Activists in Argentina continue to push to correct the record.
If you are judging my extended Argentine family harshly for their nation’s obfuscation, I would advise you to look at our own country’s difficulties in handling the narrative of its racist history. As time goes on, it becomes more and more evident that societal dynamics and blatant inequities have roots in America’s failure to atone for its past. For all the moral superiority our elected leaders leverage for political purposes, there is a blatant unwillingness to face the apparent facts of racism not just in public policies, but in how our nation’s history is taught in public schools.
And, I have observed that disconnect on several levels in Suffield.
History, science and math are tools used to elucidate reality. To dismiss uncomfortable truths, in whatever setting and for whatever purposes, not only distorts reality, it stunts the growth of a society.
And, the historical record is rife with failed societies that chose to ignore reality.