Every time a person would ask me about my heritage, I would simply shrug. My mom was born in the Italian seaside town of Ancona, while my dad hails from Quito — the mountainous capital of Ecuador. After falling in love on the east coast of the Italian peninsula, my parents settled years later in another swampier, peninsula — Florida. And that’s where yours truly came into the picture.
Recounting this story is easy on paper, but when it came to filling in the bubble for my ethnicity in surveys or tests I was stumped. I was certain that both of my parents’ ancestors are of European descent, which would make me Caucasian. But between my last name and my Miami upbringing, I was always second-guessing how European I really was. When I had to indicate something on a standardized test or a Census form, I’d always just opt for the “Other” option.
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The AncestryDNA test not only gave me a more detailed understanding of where on Earth my ancestors lived, but it also revealed a facet of my heritage that I had no idea about.
Sending in a saliva sample is as easy as it sounds and the results can take six to eight weeks to process. During that time AncestryDNA runs an autosomal DNA test, which traces back through all of a person’s family lines in order to provide an “Ethnicity Estimate” of what regions of the world they’ve descended from.
After pulling out the DNA from my spit and analyzing it, my AncestryDN account enabled me to see the regional breakdown of my heritage. Clicking “Discover Your DNA Story” on the homepage gave me access to a color-coded map that highlighted the corners of the world my family was most likely from.
The ethnicity estimate showed a map that split my results into four major countries and regions, which the examination of my DNA determined makes up roughly 90 percent of my ethnicity. To no great surprise, I’m roughly 47 percent Italian thanks to my mom’s side of the family. But what came next on the list made me scratch my head.
It turns out I’m 21 percent French and 21 percent Native American. Before this, I was convinced that because of my dad’s Ecuadorian heritage, a big chunk of my background would be a mix of Spanish and Native American. That’s because most fair-skinned Ecuadorians, or “criollos,” generally share a colonial-era Spanish origin. But it turns out my DNA was only 4 percent Spanish!
When I asked my dad about my discovery, he was as surprised as I was: “French? Paez is a known Spanish name,” he said, sounding startled. “I’ve looked into our family heritage before and was convinced we were a mix of Spanish and Native American.”
After some further research, I learned that my ancestors are likely from a part of Spain, like Catalonia, where the population’s DNA looks very French for historical reasons. These tests look at where your ancestors lived something like 500-1000 years ago. Back then, people from France, northern Spain (areas like Catalonia), and northern Italy were like one big group of people with shared DNA.
It may be that my ancestors descend from this population, settled in Spain, and then found their way to Ecuador. So when the 2020 census rolls around, I’ll definitely be filling in the “Other” bubble like I always have, but now with a better understanding of where my family came from.
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