RESILIENT. TENACIOUS. PASSIONATE.
“She looks Mexican.” That’s what I remember my Polish grandmother saying the one and only time I met her. My mother hurried me out of the room after that. I guess that should have given me a clue that something was up but I was only 5 years old, what did I know about anything?
Fast forward to 2014, age 59, when I took my first over-the-counter DNA test. First one, because I later took three, from different testing companies. I took this first test because I wondered whether I had any Indian DNA – Indian from India, not Native American. I wondered about that because I have been to India 13 times and consider it my second home. My first trip was in 2005 and when I stepped outside the Chennai airport, I felt like I had come home. The feeling was primal, I felt it in my bones.
Because my hair and eyes were almost black, my mother had always told me that I was part “gypsy.” She had to tell me something because my parents, being Polish and German, had light hair and eyes. I knew the Roma people had migrated to Eastern Europe from northern India so I thought, “hmmmm….maybe my strong connection to India is through my DNA.” That “gypsy blood” my mother always told me I had might be from India.
I got my results – SURPRISE! Not a drop of German in me. I wondered why a majority of my DNA matches had Spanish last names? I was stunned and yet something felt right. A friend called it “blood memory.”
Thinking that it must be a mistake I took a second test with a different testing company. Same result, with most of my DNA matches having Spanish surnames. I thought the third time has to be the charm, JUST TO MAKE SURE. Same result: I am half Mexican, my bio father was Mexican, not the German man who raised me. DNA does not lie.
There was no one I could ask about my birth story. Both my Polish mother and German father were dead. There were no relatives I could ask. I will never know whether the man who raised me and loved me very much knew that I was not his biological daughter.
I had many mixed feelings about this discovery. At first, I was ecstatic because I had always intuited that I was not what I was told growing up. The DNA tests only confirmed what I somehow already knew. That I was half Mexican felt like a relief, but I wondered how people would have reacted in the 1960s. I grew up in a neighborhood in Chicago where Dr. Martin Luther King marched for open housing and white people threw bricks at him.
Eventually I fell into a deep depression that lasted about 5 years. I could carry on with my daily life, but it felt like I was carrying a heavy weight. The anger I carried for my mother turned into rage – she stole my Mexican roots from me because of her lies by omission. I had always had a tenuous relationship with my mother; I moved out when I was 18 and never looked back. She was abusive, mostly emotionally, sometimes physically, and when I was in my 20s, she told me that I “should have been an abortion.”
In the early stages of my search for my bio father little things kept coming back to me. Her abortion comment, the fact that she would always remind me that “linda” was a Spanish word, encouraging me to learn Spanish (which I did, starting in elementary school.) I remember my mother wanting us to go to a Mexican rodeo. At the time I thought nothing of it because I loved horses, but looking back – why would a Polish woman living on the southwest side of Chicago in a neighborhood of European immigrants have any interest whatsoever in a Mexican rodeo?
After my three DNA tests I tried to unravel everything but it was nearly impossible and I employed a search angel. She quickly discovered that the Mexican families I descend from were heavily endogamous. Endogamy is the practice of marrying within a certain group. When the group is small enough, cousins marry cousins. Look at endogamy this way: people usually come from two distinct families; one set of grandparents is Smith, the other is Jones. In an endogamous family a person’s grandparents on both sides come from the same Smith family.
My ancestors lived in one small town in Zacatecas, Mexico since the 1700s and close cousins married close cousins. My first search angel quit because she was not an expert in endogamy and was unable to unravel my DNA matches due to so much intermarriage. She could only say for certain who my great-great-grandparents were. She told me that the only way I could know who my biological father was if a sibling, niece, nephew, aunt, or uncle tested, i.e., a close relation, not another cousin. At this point I literally had 500 names on my DNA ancestry tree who were mostly cousins.
I found another search angel who was very experienced in endogamy, and she knew what to do. She also told me that I needed a close relation to test for me to learn who my bio father was. My DNA matches were all over the country, but the key was finding a man who lived in Chicago the year I was conceived.
Five years after my NPE discovery I met with some close Mexican cousins in 2019. They lived only an hour from me! My bio father was still unknown but they welcomed me with open arms. It did not matter to them that no one knew who my bio father was. However, I had a concern. I told them I had a very serious question for them, whether I could call myself Mexican even though I was not raised in the culture. I am very aware of cultural appropriation. There was silence, then an explosion of laughter and yelling: “OF COURSE YOU ARE MEXICAN, YOUR FATHER IS MEXICAN!” They all hugged me and my five years of depression was suddenly gone. Ironically, my first husband is Mexican and we lived with his family in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas so I am very familiar with Mexican culture.
Now 7 years after my NPE discovery I had resigned myself to never knowing who my bio father was and I was good with that – because I am Buddhist. Buddhism teaches about attachment and craving, that our suffering is caused by our craving things to be different from what reality is. I realized that my depression was really profound grief. Grief about being lied to, grief about never knowing who my bio father was, grief about not knowing my true birth story, grief about not knowing my roots. I detached from my grief and accepted my reality of not knowing.
I even forgave my mother because I assumed I was the result of one of two scenarios: either she was assaulted or she had an affair and could not be with my bio father. There is a saying that “hurt people hurt people.” My mother never talked about how she grew up. She might have grown up with abuse and trauma. Her mental instability when I was growing up might have been exacerbated by one of those two scenarios. Finally, after 7 years I was fine with all of it.
Then in November 2021 I received another “you have a match” email, it was for a half-niece. I almost fell off my chair because it was not another cousin! I sent the information to my search angel who within 30 minutes tracked down my half-niece and her father, my half-brother, in California. I had three half-siblings, but two were no longer alive (a brother and a sister.) All these years I knew there must be half-siblings somewhere. She found my half-niece’s Facebook page and sent me her photo. I saw it and my heart stopped: we could be sisters because we looked so similar, even down to the pierced noses and tattoos which made me smile. My bio father was her grandfather. Everyone I showed her photo was speechless at how much we looked alike.
I told my search angel that I have nothing to lose. Since information about all of us is for sale, I bought reports from a public records website. I wrote a letter to my half-niece and her father starting with, “this will be a shock to you but….” I told them my story and sent my photo. I wrote that I understood if they did not want to contact me after reading my letter. I gave them my telephone number and my half-brother called me the week I sent the letter.
As of August 2022 we have talked only one more time and he has sent me photos of our father and grandmother and other relatives via emails and texts. He sent our father’s military discharge record and death certificate because I want to change the father’s name on my birth certificate (I need a court order to do that.) And yes, I definitely look like my bio father, dark hair and dark eyes. DNA does not lie.
For whatever reason my half-brother is now merely cordial to me. When we talked in 2021 he told me that years ago there was another woman who contacted him to tell him she was his half-sister but they never kept in contact. He does not know where she is now. My gut tells me that he has a hard time knowing about me. He might have put our father on a pedestal and maintains a certain image of him. It may be difficult for him to accept that our father had feet of clay.
Now he refers to “my father” instead of “our father” as he previously did with me. I have left it up to him whether he wants to meet me. If not, I am fine with that, I am not going to force any meeting. I grew up without siblings so at this stage of my life in my late 60s, I’m good. I am just very grateful that I learned the name of my bio father before I die. I never thought I would.
Very recently I connected with two second cousins who were able to fill in missing pieces. My bio father stayed with their family when he lived in Chicago after the Korean War. I was told that the family knew about him and my mother, that he was with a married “Polish lady,” and there was speculation about a child. My cousin told me that she thought it was “an affair of the heart.”
I never cared about the circumstances of my birth. Whether it was an assault or an affair did not matter to me. But I will always wonder how my mother and my bio father met because my mother was 41 when I was born and my bio father was 24. I remember hearing my mother tell people that I was a “change of life baby.” Did my bio father know about me? I will never know.
For all the NPEs out there, don’t give up searching but know that you may never find the answer you are looking for. You can not stay attached to the “what if” because you will only perpetuate your suffering. As a trauma informed Yoga teacher, although I dealt with deep depression, I knew how to help myself with my Buddhism and Yoga. Although my depression lasted 5 years, I knew that ultimately it was temporary.
If you have a hard time unraveling your DNA matches, consider endogamy. The addition of endogamy in an ancestral search can makes things very difficult. If there is endogamy and you are using a search angel, it is important that they know how to work with endogamy because not all search angels do.
Most importantly, know that you are not alone. There are more of us NPEs out there than people will ever realize.