In recent years we have seen a rise in the promotion of DNA testing that enables you to learn more about your genetic history. These tests can sometimes be quite surprising or they can confirm history that you already knew to be true. As a transnational/transracial adoptee, my personal motivations for participating in DNA testing was simply to learn more about myself. I have always found shows such as Find Your Roots by Henry Louis Gates fascinating as they help expand your scope of knowledge when shaping your identity development.
Let’s get a couple things out of the way though first. I was born in Pusan, South Korea and adopted at 7 months old and raised in rural Michigan in a loving white family. I have one older sister who also happens to be a Korean born adoptee, but we are not biological siblings. Growing up and even now, I can tell you that I never felt like anything was missing from my family life. My family provided me (and still provides) me with all of the love and support I needed to be successful. With the little facts that I know about my biological parents, I know that the life I have been given here in the US is better than the one I may have had after being given away in South Korea. I’ve read many reflections of others that have taken the test because of a desire to find themselves. For me, that was partially true, but for when I first did AncestryDNA I was really just curious what I could learn. I did 23andMe to learn more about potential health risks as that kind of information was not available to me as an adoptee
Now on to the good stuff…
If you’ve never done one of the DNA tests, you receive a little box with a plastic tube in it. You fill the tube with a certain amount of spit and then mail it back and wait for the results. I did AncestryDNA back in 2016 and it took a little over a month to get the results back. I did 23andMe this year and it took about two months to get the results. It took a little bit longer to get the results because the first test had an unsuccessful analysis, which I think was because I had not rinsed my mouth out well enough before I filled the spit tube.
I remember when I got the notification from AncestryDNA that my results were ready for viewing and both the excitement and anxiety that ensued. I wasn’t sure if the results would tell me that I was secretly multiracial and the additional mysteries that would give. But alas, as you can see in the screenshot, my initial results were not as exciting.
I was initially relieved that there were no additional mysteries to uncover. I was admittedly a little disappointed that my pie chart was all one color, while some of my friends had a rainbow of colors for their own pie charts. I also don’t know why AncestryDNA chose yellow to represent Asia East, but that is a topic for a different blog post…
The other interesting aspect was that it showed me a variety of DNA relatives. Of the millions of people that completed AncestryDNA tests, I had several relations most of which were quite distant with the closest being an estimated fourth cousin. AncestryDNA gives you the ability to connect with these DNA relatives. One DNA relative did happen to reach out to me, but the conversation did not go very far after I told her I was adopted and knew very little about my biological parents. It is still quite interesting to login every once in awhile to see if any more DNA relatives appear and possibly see the faces of those individuals in their profile pictures. It is intriguing to sometimes think that you might see aspects of your own face in the faces of others.
As aforementioned, I most recently completed 23andMe to learn more about health related to DNA. As an adoptee, those records are often harder to obtain and can be a long and lengthy process to obtain if it is possible at all. The disclaimer is obviously that the records and results are not fool proof. This is an important factor that 23andMe reminds you of before you read your results. When I got the notification that my results were ready for 23andMe, there was less anxiety this time around. The results were a bit more interesting this time around though as they showed a broader depth of information.
This time around I got more colors in my pie chart! However, the results were consistent in telling me I’m 100% East Asian, now with small amounts of Japanese and other East Asian ancestry. There are lots of articles out there that will tell you the many differences and the many similarities that make East Asians very similar and hodgepodge of Asian genetics when you compare the DNA (just google it). Among the interesting health factors 23andMe can give you include carrier status reports, genetic health risk reports, in addition to the ancestry reports. It was a relief to learn that I do not have any of the variants for carrying on any of the diseases or disorders that 23andMe tests. I also do not have the genetic variants that can lead to such Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and forms of cancer. All in all, I am very average which is a good thing. The result I found the funniest is the “Alcohol Flush Reaction” meaning that I do not turn red/pink when I consume alcohol, which is a common stereotype for Asians. Yay for defeating one stereotype!
Similar to AncestryDNA, 23andMe lets you know if you have any genetic relatives that have also taken the DNA test. For 23andMe, the results showed me that I have 400 DNA relatives that have participated in the DNA test. The results also showed one individual with very close genetic relation had also taken the DNA test. This individual is listed as “Close Family to second cousin.” That was quite shocking and took some processing to think about that result. The additional information the site gives you included the individuals surname and that we might share the same great-grandparents. I haven’t decided if I will reach out to this individual and what, if anything, I would specifically want to know or even what I would do with the answers.
I don’t yet know what the implications of this experience may have on my work in student affairs. One of the biggest takeaways is that we are more than just our DNA and also more than what we see in the mirror. Would I recommend trying one of the DNA testing experiences? Absolutely. For some, the results can have a big impact on their identities. For me, I can confidently say that my identity as a Korean and Asian has not waivered and has been solidified and affirmed by the results. In the end, there is nothing to lose from knowing more about yourself, even if you do not like the results. There is still a lot to learn from the results.
P.S. If you’re interested in doing one of the DNA tests, watch for the sales. Now is a great time of year to consider as the sites typically run sales around any holiday.
Ty Krueger is a Residential Community Director at Southern Methodist University and Conference Co-Coordinator for the NASPA Multiracial Knowledge Community.