Recently, I have been engaging in a series of dialogues about race that a friend started on Facebook. In a recent comment, I started a sentence by noting that I am not a minority, unless you count my Native American blood. My friend responded, “I would definitely count your Native American blood if you truly feel like it’s part of your identity…” and went on to address the substantive part of my original comment. I’ve been mulling over the implied question for a couple of weeks now because it’s bigger than whether my Native American blood is important to my identity. In truth, it’s a question about what, if anything, is important to my identity?
One of the interesting things about not knowing your heritage is that you can be from anywhere. I think it’s one of the reasons adoptees have a tendency to day-dream and make up stories about their origins. If you don’t have a “tie” to the genealogical history of your adopted family, then you can be the long-lost prince or princess who is waiting for the return of the king and queen. And, when you are hurt and confused by the abandonment part of your story, it’s actually pretty cool to envision you are from such an important heritage.
Of course, when the king and queen don’t return, you are left with a stark reality – your family is your family, but their heritage (from a blood line perspective) is not. No matter how many genealogy projects you are assigned by teachers who are understanding when you explain that you don’t know your blood line heritage, the compilation of materials they request that you gather from your adopted family still never really feels like yours. Even if you are proud that your paternal great-grandmother was a full-blood Cherokee Indian, that doesn’t make you a Cherokee. And regardless of whether your maternal blood line can be traced back to European royalty, that doesn’t mean you have royal blood.
As silly as it may seem, I was pumped when my natural dad told me that I have Creek Indian blood in my heritage. And having the names of generations of my natural families made me want to start doing some genealogical research; I even signed up for a free account to search. But then I started thinking – while this is my blood heritage, I was 37 years old when I found it and it’s no more a part of me than the genealogical history of my adoptive parents.
So, here I sit, with two distinct histories – one by nature, one by nurture – and I think it’s somewhat fraudulent to claim either. And that is the very real answer to my friend’s question.