I am adopted. Just days after I was born, I became a member of the Immel family. At that time, my brother was around, who is adopted, and we were 18 months away from my sister showing up, who is also adopted. It’s probably the first thing my siblings and I knew about ourselves – thoughtful parents and children’s books helped us understand a funny word – ‘biological’ – to distinguish between the people who made us (biological parents) and the people who were raising us (parents).
For Christmas this year, my dad gave us a genetic testing kit, hoping that we might better understand our stories. As an adopted child, I do have a small amount of information about my biological family, but much remained unknown. I was, until recently, a genetic secret.
I delayed in submitting my test for a while, but after my sister discovered she is nearly 50% Finnish, I joined the fray.
So, who am I?
I’m 99.7% European, mostly descended from ancient Alpine-Celtic and Germanic populations – French and German. I’ve never thought of myself as French or German, so to celebrate, I considered ordering poutine (even though it’s a Canadian thing, I think) and bratwurst at a brewpub in my hometown.
I can smell ‘asparagus aftermath’ when I pee. I do not have dimples or a cleft chin. I do have detached earlobes and blue eyes. I also have a decent ear for musical pitch, which the test told me I would have. And, I’m likely to have a slight unibrow.
The test also predicted that I wouldn’t have a bald spot. 87% of people with results like mine don’t have one. In fact, they said I won’t experience any hair loss at all, at least not before the age of 40.
Wrong. I’m already super bald. Like, I shave my head because I’m bald. Like, I have a hashtag to deflect my sensitivities around baldness – #NoHairNoCare.
Needless to say, the test wasn’t 100% accurate, and it doesn’t claim to be. I am a deep sleeper, I am not afraid of heights, and I love cilantro, though the test suggested otherwise.
A friend told me the test would provide information that could be helpful and/or encouraging. The information I got is certainly interesting. But helpful? Encouraging? I’m not sure. It’s a clear-ish picture of what I am, but something is missing. The fundamental question lingers.
Who am I?
The other day we were at a pool – me, my siblings, mom, dad, nieces and nephew. I was in my hometown taking a break after finishing three years of challenging work in Chicago – a time of transition, to be sure. Large umbrellas cast cooling shadows in the bright summer sun. Beer cans left condensation rings on matte glass table tops. The rattle of a diving board sounded every ten seconds or so. Eyes closed, my mind wandered for a moment to a few of my former students and coworkers. I felt caught by the way they weren’t present to me anymore and how much they changed me.
Then, my nephew shouted my name, and I looked at my family. I was struck by how unlikely it is that we are together – I share no genes with any of them. My mom and dad met at a New Year’s Eve party and later adopted three kids who could have come from anywhere.
Who I am as revealed by the test, confirms some deep and problematic realities. Being 99.7% European illuminates my whiteness, my privileges, and my socialization in America. It illuminates the systems that have shaped me and how I am in the world. It reminds me of things I won’t experience and fears I don’t carry all the time. No one will ask me to go back anywhere, I won’t be targeted for anything, and policies don’t need to change for me to be safe.
The test doesn’t do it all, though. It says nothing of the role faith has played in my life. Or of what it has meant to encounter others as I have. Or of what mistakes I’ve made. Or of what it means to be a part of a family like mine. Or, of the love I’ve been offered over and over.
As much as I try to run from it, the deepest answer to the question – Who am I? – will be hard-earned in the quiet chasms of my mind and heart. It is a question I may never answer fully. A friend Patrick once said that where we come from – our genes, origins, privileges – hold us captive. But, my choices matter moving forward, as they always have. For some reason, I understand that now more than ever. Where I am headed remains a hopeful mystery, a story yet to be told.