Culture August 16, 2018
Searching and Finding II: DNA, so what?
In my previous entry on searching and finding, I spoke to the forces of normalization through language and culture (nationalisms), that can pressure a person to create a question about their identities. In searching, when we take steps to find, there are many ways in which we go. One such way is through scientific ancestry DNA tests such as 23andMe. When we take these paths, what do we do with them? What we do with what we find reveals quite a bit of the internalized forms of making claims and what effects they have on social justice. In what ways do these affect my own questions toward social justice, about sexism, militarism, the place of Asia and the West, the women and children in military occupation, and our links to them?
Watching a commercial on cable TV with a woman celebrating with “I’m everything!” after finding out she has ancestry from several diverse places, is irritating. Celebration as something only about joy is not what I am responding to. What I am responding to is approaching identity without history, and without examining issues of privilege and cultural hierarchies.

When speaking with many of the people who used [23andMe], and also to some of the presenters who spoke of finding a parent through this or another service, what they did with it usually went in two main directions: 1) a satisfaction in knowing and no need for searching; and 2) Finding relations and establishing contact.
Conversely, when I attended a conference held in 2015 at University of California Berkeley on Korean camptowns and mixed-race adoptees, there was a presentation by the 23andMe DNA ancestry group. For the Korean adoptees who are searching for their American or Korean parents and ancestors, I was moved by how people were needing to address the haunting in a sense of self and history. When speaking with many of the people who used the service, and also to some of the presenters who spoke of finding a parent through this or another service, what they did with it usually went in two main directions: 1) a satisfaction in knowing and no need for searching; and 2) Finding relations and establishing contact.
I was speaking with a few hāfu Amerasians from my own generation, who wished that they had these services when they were young, when they were adopted out and then haunted by the need for one or both parents to be found. In many cases, many Japanese Amerasians were raised to become “American” and to forget their Japanese-ness, even when living with one of their parents. When speaking with most Amerasians and Ameri-Pacifics in the United States, from other lands across and around the Asia, Pacific, and South Seas region, these realities and intensities were similar.

Some think of social change as a way for the whole world to be smiling and enjoying life and forgetting their so-called troubles. Troubles, in this language, usually include any difference that includes political and social realities. I, of course, feel that this colludes with the dominant mainstream way of silencing dissent and difference.
In the United States, the hyphenated identity must be included if one were wanting to reveal these aspects of identity. However, having a heritage may not be the same as “identity.” On the other hand, if one erases or worse yet, dominates another aspect of our heritage and uses words like “primitive” or “racist” or whatever other term, as a statement to describe the entire said heritage—which I have encountered many times by mixed-race people, the question of the effects of having a DNA test for ancestry discovery can be asked. Anything in life has multiple causes and multiple effects, coming together in a moment of life to create an event and putting certain emotions and actions into motion. Effects cannot be controlled, nor am I positing that. What I am saying is that if we are in the business of identity as an avenue for social change, then I feel that there is a responsibility to ask certain questions of ourselves. Social change itself, has many reasons different people are attracted to it. Some think of social change as a way for the whole world to be smiling and enjoying life and forgetting their so-called troubles. Troubles, in this language, usually include any difference that includes political and social realities. I, of course, feel that this colludes with the dominant mainstream way of silencing dissent and difference. On the other end is the using of difference in order to dominate. This is also prevalent and making identity a form of separation and forming hierarchies once again, perhaps in order to reverse the order of the dominant hierarchy in a culture or nation that we are combatting. Understandable, but again, not really changing society, it is repeating the same problem in a different way.

What if we ourselves have not been to these places, know nothing of it, and do not speak those languages or know the worldviews—nothing? Then do we attempt to involve our ideas about that culture or place into ourselves? How? If one is reading American books, by American authors, who write about Japan, what does this internalizing of a “Japan” from these authors, mean?
I won’t go into questions arising from what DNA testing itself is and its methodologies. My concern is in searching and finding our heritages, what do we do with it/them? Is “what are you” the question we are responding to? Is it “where are you from?” Locations and identity-labels sometimes don’t go together, as we know. What if we ourselves have not been to these places, know nothing of it, and do not speak those languages or know the worldviews—nothing? Then do we attempt to involve our ideas about that culture or place into ourselves? How? If one is reading American books, by American authors, who write about Japan, what does this internalizing of a “Japan” from these authors, mean? What assumptions that Americans (or propaganda—such as Orientalist assumptions) are at play in what we are internalizing as “Japanese?” At these junctures, I encounter interesting dynamics and questions when we must confront an American-ness juxtaposed with Japanese-ness and what these mean to us, or what they don’t mean to us. What do we judge as “weird” or “stupid” or “doesn’t make sense.” More often than not, domination of one kind or another, comes into play.
For people just finding out and merely knowing, these questions never come up. It is a neo-liberal, individualistic, and therefore privileged gaze and a way to maintain social position in a society. What, then is the searching for, is my question. In this sense, we can make sense of how to tread our paths for understanding, social change, and social justice.
Featured Image by Edward M. Haugh

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