The beauty of the world is that it is limitless in its diversity. Chances are that, when you first began traveling, you were drawn to the most distant, mysterious, unfamiliar destinations. On the surface, you had nothing in common with these places or their inhabitants. Human nature propels us insatiably to pursue newness, exoticism, and even novelty. This fuels our interest in other cultures, the allure of foreign tongues, and the romanticism of landscapes different than our own. We want to have our minds flipped sideways, to learn what always existed, just not in our own parameters.
We find ourselves reaching outward to explore, to get to know the "other." We seek to escape ourselves, to become immersed in other ways of life, of thinking, of being. This is exemplified in the famous contemporary journeys of Bill Bryson, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Chris McCandless. They traipsed into the woods, escaped from failed marriages in ashrams, and swore off money while picking berries in Alaska. While their stories were distinct, they each ventured into the outside world seeking something, anything other than the reality of their own lives. Their commonality, however, was that they each came to know themselves more deeply than they could have in their comfort zone -- their hometowns.
Unintentional Biases and the Stories We Tell Ourselves
It's an unflattering truth, but even the most open-minded of us have our biases and prejudices. No matter where you were born, you were likely handed down a sense of pride and nationalism. Especially if you've been raised in the United States, you likely cling onto your cultural roots. It's not just who you hung out with way back in high school, it's the people you play poker with, attend church with, invite over to watch Sunday night football. Do they belong to (what you believe is) your same cultural background?
This argument may seem counterintuitive, but bear with me. Examining melting-pot cities like San Francisco, New York, and Miami, there's still a very clear division of neighborhoods according to ethnicities. There's Chinatown, Little Italy, The Mission, Little Haiti, and the list goes on.
While these nuclei offer visitors a rich cultural experience and a sense of belonging to those who were exiled from their homelands in generations past, they also perpetuate a fixed sense of identity. It's quite possible that most people living in these neighborhoods are third generation North Americans, and that clinging so tightly to the traditions they've known all of their lives may actually be hindering their sense of self.
It's important to honor the ancestors forced into slavery on San Francisco's railroads and the great-grandparents who risked their lives seeking asylum from Castro's dictatorship. But what if this is only one part of the story? What if you've grown up your whole life thinking that your ancestors all came from Vietnam, or Mexico, or Namibia, yet the stories you were told were wrong?
The Power of DNA Testing
In the not-too-distant past, we had to rely on our grandmothers' shakily hand-drawn family trees and our parents' far-fetched stories to determine our genealogy. Thankfully, times have changed and our family history doesn't have to rely on folklore. Sites like ancestry.com are helpful. However, scrolling through thousands of records littered with our parents' last names can often be misleading. Doing a DNA test, however, can take the guess work out of your research and provide you with relatively quick access to your genetics.
With companies like 23andme, examining your DNA is now easier and more affordable than ever. Just a small saliva sample can determine nearly every nation where your ancestors originated. These tests go back thousands of years, providing a comprehensive view of your lineage.
I have always felt very close to my Mexican roots, and have taken several trips through the country, exploring the cities where my great-grandparents rode the bus to work, bought masa for their tortillas, and danced the night away to rancheras. Traveling throughout Mesoamerica has deepened my understanding of who my predecessors were, and essentially, who I am now. Having family that still lives in Mexico enriches this experience even further. However, what about those places that I'm just inexplicably drawn to?
After having my DNA tested, it turns out that several countries that have always called to me were also part of my heritage. Brazil, Colombia, Spain, the UK, and even Israel. There was a nagging, an obsession, a craving to see these places, and now I knew why. Even if you believe that we become who we are more due to our environment than the genes that have been passed down to us over the centuries, an ancestry trip is a fascinating way to see the world while interacting with people who just might share your same lineage.
Benefits of Ancestry Trips
There are so many advantages to taking a custom ancestry trip -- whether you choose to visit one country for a month or opt to fit in as many as possible for a few weeks. Getting to know the customs, religions, physical characteristics, work, and food can reveal much about your own character and help you piece together answers to questions that have plagued you your entire life. That is not to say that you should blame your temper on your "Fighting Irish" great-grandmother, but it could explain why you -- and no one else -- picked up a knack for the cello or just a bridged nose.
The point is: we are taught to think that we, as humans, are wildly different from one another. Discovering your ancestry, and going a step further to take an ancestry trip, allows you to experience just how similar we are despite our diverse habits and beliefs. People who we may judge, or even dislike, could actually be related to us. It's so powerful to imagine every single person in our family tree -- whether they came from Norway, South Africa, or Iran -- and know that our lives wouldn't be possible if they hadn't lived or loved. We owe our lives to them, and getting to know their culture is actually a form of honoring who we are as individuals and human beings in general.
Use Your DNA to Plan a Custom Ancestry Trip of a Lifetime
If you're interested in doing a custom ancestry trip (which you should be), you're in luck. DNA Unwrapped will do all the legwork for you, from the DNA analysis to the trip planning! Get in contact with them, and get out in the world, walking the same streets your ancestors did!
Thanks for reading. We hope you convinced you it might be interesting to get a DNA analysis done, if nothing else. You might just be surprised by exactly where your ancestors came from.