the sea queen
Looking back at my last blog post from more than a year ago, I am somewhat bemused by the dramatic "my whole identity has been upended" tone of it all.
Yes, I will admit that when my My Heritage results came back as zero-percent Italian ancestry, I was quite taken aback.
Growing up, I was immersed in everything Italian - food, sayings, superstitions, and people. I was raised by my second-generation Italian grandparents who in many ways were more like Italian immigrants. My grandmother spoke Italian - mainly to her friends when she didn't want us to know what was going on - and she baked and cooked all the foods that her own mother and grandmother had made back in Southern Italy. My grandfather, like his Neapolitan ancestors before him, loved working outdoors with his hands, growing his own tomatoes on a borrowed sliver of soil. And while my grandfather was not bilingual, his off-color, slang Italian still weaves itself within my own vocabulary to this day.
Growing up, I also identified as Italian because in doing so it was an implicit and maybe not-so-implicit rejection of everything from my paternal side. Irish? Yeah, I guess I'm technically half Irish, I would say, but I am really Italian.
When my DNA results came back, not only did Italian not come up under my Ethnicities, very few of my DNA Matches had Italian surnames. Instead the surnames most matched with me were Miller, David, and Smith - an additional blow to my childhood "really Italian" claim.
Another surprise was that I am (at least according to My Heritage) 14.3% Jewish. My reaction to this was more "eh, that feels right" especially because it allows me to fantasize that I am a direct descendant of my all-time favorite painter Amedeo Modigliani.
After I received my DNA results, I got in touch with a few of my maternal cousins. In speaking with them and doing subsequent research, it makes sense that my heritage would come up as Greek and Iberian instead of outright Italian. Naples, where my great-grandparents were from, was settled by the Greeks in the 8th Century BCE and for two centuries starting in 16th century was ruled by Spain. In addition, it's possible that at least some of my family - perhaps 14.3% of them - came to Italy with paintbrushes in hand as part of the Spanish Inquisition.
Who I am has changed. That's undeniable. But who I am has changed not because of some early morning swab of my cheek sent off to a DNA lab.
Instead, who I am has changed because of a slow unfolding and release of what has defined me. I am Italian. I am not Italian. I am not Irish. I am Irish. I am Catholic. I am Jewish. I am a mother and a wife. Without sons at home, I am no longer the same mother. Nor am I the same wife. And, maybe most importantly, like my newly-imagined paisan Modigliani, I am a creative. I am a sculptor. I am a painter. Maybe not as good as my forefather, that's for sure, but I am both of these things nonetheless.
Mitzi is still in the house. But with her now are so many other people - some from far-away lands long ago and some closer to home waiting to be discovered.
I'm just trying to figure it out, like everyone else.