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Rated: E · Essay · Biographical · #2265360
My family's complicated history

The Poet will publish my poem, “My Mother’s History” in an upcoming anthology on Cultural Identity. My ethnic background is a bit complicated. Depending upon how I look at it, I have 18 to 20 nationalities in my tangled family DNA.

From my father’s side of the family, I inherited a German family name, Scandinavian blue eyes, with ancestors coming from France, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Lapland, Norway, Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, and somehow the Basque region. I also have some Jewish ancestry and a trace of Mongolian ancestry as do most people of Eastern European background. And my DNA test also claims that there is some Italian ancestry somewhere and perhaps Spanish ancestry.
From my mother’s side of the family, I am part Scot, part Irish, part French, part Dutch, part Cherokee and part Nigerian. Since she was part of the lost tribe of the Cherokee Indians, her story is particularly complicated as her ancestors fled before being enrolled in a tribe and lived in the Ozarks intermarrying with other Indian tribes, Scot and Irish settlers, and escaped slaves. In any event, there are so few people in her ethnic group -perhaps 25,000 that they don’t show in DNA tests. Since her parents show Cherokee that means I am anywhere from 1/8 to 1/8 Cherokee. I met my uncle once and he looked Cherokee to me.

The following are my poems exploring my ethnic history. Enjoy.

My Mother’s History

One day many a year ago
My mother spoke to me
About her family’s tangled history,

She spoke to me
Of lies, half-truths, and myths
Some of which may have been true
And throughout the evening
Her history came alive.

She was born in the hills
of North Little Rock
The 10th of 11 children
Of an ancient dying race.

The Cherokees
who had run away
Refugees who fled in the hills.

Part of the lost tribe of the Cherokee nation
Part Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole
and African Americans
Who fled to the mountains
To avoid the trail of tears.

Rather than join the rest
In the promised land
Of Oklahoma.

They did not exist
I did not exist.

The BIA told us
No Indian scholarship
For you

Since you can’t prove
You are in fact
Of Native American ancestry,

I asked my mother
What does this mean?
She said

No BIA money for you,
My non-Indian son.

Her family and Bill Clinton family
Were related
Bill Clinton and I are distant cousins

When I met him
I related my family history
He concluded that we were indeed cousins
Said I could call him Cousin Bill
And he would call me Cousin Jake

And he too was part Cherokee
Irish, Scotch, French
And African American
Part of the lost tribe
Of the Cherokee nation

I told my mom
This story
She said
It was true

She was a distant cousin
Of Bill Clinton
Still did not like
The lying SOB

Her people disappeared
From history’s eyes
And DNA data banks

My history was over
As was hers

And so,
I learned at last
The painful truth

That due to the genocidal crimes
of politicians so long ago
My mother’s people

Lost their land, their culture,
and their hope
And became
downtrodden forgotten people

Hillbillies they were called
Living in the hills and mountain dales
Clinging to the dim fading memories
Of their once glorious past
As proud Cherokees

Now no one knew their name
The old ways were forgotten
And the new world never forgave them

And they never forgave the new world
As they lived on
In the margins of society
Forgotten people

And I vowed that as long as I lived
Their history would not die
As I knew the truth

And I would become a proud
And make my mother proud of me
And my accomplishments

When I am down and out
I recall her stories and her warnings
And realize it is up to me

To live my life
To let the Cherokee in me
Live his life

And in so doing
My mother’s history does not die

It lives on in me
Until the day I die

Long live the Cherokee nation
Long live my mother

DNA Does Not Like or Does it?

I sent way
For one of those DNA tests
That promises to reveal
Your ethnic heritage

The only problem is that claim
Is not yet true
The results were surprising
To say the least

Family lore would have it
That I have 18 nationalities
In my tangled family history
Mostly Northern European

Part German, Norwegian, Swedish, Finish, Danish, Dutch, Laplander, Russian, Scottish, Basque, Mongolian, Jewish, Spanish, and French from my father
Part Cherokee, Dutch, Irish, Scottish, English, Italian, Nigerian, and French from my mother
100 percent born and raised in Berkeley

The DNA results showed
that I am 68% northern European
with trace elements of Jewish, Basque. Italian
Mongolian and Nigerian stock,

No native American at all
And my Germanic last name
For some reason
Did not register at all

Go figure I said
And I read the fine print
The state of the art is such
That claims that they can tell

Your ethnic background
Are exaggerated
The fine print read
Explaining why it is often inaccurate

The Cherokee background
Because my branch of the Cherokees
Disappeared into the mist of time

Part of the lost tribe of the Cherokee nation
Part Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole
and African Americans
Who fled to the mountains
To avoid the trail of trees

The German background
Got swept up into the northern European thing
And at the end of the day
I remained as much a mongrel
the breed as anything else

Typical American
I suppose
All in all
A fascinating experiment

Family History Revealed

The DNA results
Revealed some aspects
Of whom I am
Where I am from

But not everything
Was revealed
And much of my history
Remains hidden

My father was from Yakima
Ran away to the Bay Area
Where he became a college professor
Taught the dismal science economics

Along the way
He met my mother
And after a whirlwind romance
had four children

My older brother,
Younger brother
And sister

She was a refugee
From the dust bowl
Fled Arkansas
In the late ’30s

Never looked back
Settled down
In the Bay Area
Yet the south lingered on

She trained herself
To speak without an accent
The only time the southern came out
Was when she was talking to her sisters

She was the 10th of 11th children
Father was a moonshiner
A Cherokee medicine man to boot
Lived life in the Ozark mountains

She had two sons
From a prior relationship
That went south
We never really knew them

My father was an atheist
And a morning person
And a man with a plan
For everything

My mother
More make it up
As she went along
And a night owl

How and why
They met and stayed together
Is beyond me
They had a stormy relationship

My mother always said
Germans and Irish
Don’t mix
And never should marry

She also said
The world is divided into morning people
And night owls
And they are doomed to marry each other

Yet I suppose
There was real love
Beneath all the drama
And bluster

Thoughts on Visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC

Sam Adams
Had never been
To the Holocaust Museum,

Despite the fact
He had lived
And worked in DC for decades

One day after he retired
He said to himself
It was long past time
To finally see the holocaust museum

He went the week
After Charleston,
When the mob had chanted,
Jews will not replace us.

The museum affected him deeply
He had just confirmed
Through DNA

That he had at least 10 percent
Jewish ancestry
Among the 18 other nationalities
Swirling among these bloodlines

Sam Adams was concerned
Those elements of antisemitism
We’re emerging among
The MAGA crowd.

But he dismissed
The fears that Trump
Was another Hitler
As liberal hyperbole

It could not happen here
A new holocaust
Would never happen
But now he was not so sure

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