“Who Was She?” explores the concept of identity and heritage in a world where DNA tests are cheap, accurate, and accessible to masses. Alice Collins Plebuch took a test that uncovered Jewish heritage, a heritage that confused her, as neither parent, to her knowledge, was Jewish. After convincing her siblings and cousin to take the test, she discovered that her father, Jim Collins, was the Jewish parent, despite believing him to be Irish, and her paternal cousin had no genetic relation to them. Eventually, through a female relation that popped up to the un-blood related cousin through the service, the Collins discovered that their father had been mistakenly switched at birth with another baby at the hospital. The woman, Jessica Benson, had taken the test to discover more about her Jewish heritage, only to discover she was actually Irish. Her grandfather, Phillip Benson, whose biological parents were Irish immigrants, was switched with Jim Collins, whose biological parents were Jewish, at the hospital. Each man was raised in a different heritage than their biological heritage and had strong ties to the heritage they were raised in.
I think this article brings up some interesting ideas about whether heritage is in our blood or the culture in which we are raised. DNA testing challenges what heritage means to us and distorts perceptions of identity. Ultimately, I think the heritage in which we are raised is more relevant than the heritage in our DNA. My only living grandfather, my mom’s stepfather, who raised her, is a Chinese immigrant, and although I am genetically about as white as it gets, I still feel a connection to the heritage he and his parents share with us. Although DNA testing may be interesting and fun, I do not think unexpected results should totally change our perceptions of self, but I understand that may be easier said than done.
You pose an amazingly, provacative question here that deserves so much attention. “Is heritage in our blood or the culture in which we are raised.” I recall in this article, Plebuch didn’t necessarily point directly to this question, but she advocated for her father, the one that grew up Irish, but identified as Jewish, to have been safe from this ancestry information reveal because she preferred to defend his identity, strong with that heritage he was acculturated to from birth. This implies that Plebuch would agree with your point- the heritage we are raised in is more true than blood. However, she also expresses sadness not necessarily about identity, but about the life circumstances her father was raised in, that including adoption, impoverished conditions, foster care, etc. Here, perhaps she contradicts her point and brings up a different point- perhaps life circumstances are more important than even acculturated AND blood heritage. In addition, she found relief in being able to make sense of her phenotypic traits when she uncovered her biological father’s true Jewish heritage, and why he looked so different from the rest of the family. Even though after the multi-year exploration which completely unravelled her parents identity, and even though her identity was severely deconstructed, having background information on Plebuch’s true blood heritage did contribute heavily to her being able to make sense of her own identity, providing her geneological tools to piece it all together. HOWEVER, if Plebuch didn’t begin this exploration in the first place, she would have just continued to find bliss in the false Irish identity she embraced, but now we face a series of complications with this new knowledge. You were right though, her sense of self was most definitely changed! I’m just unsure if that was for the better or worse, and if Plebuch would have just been better off with her pre-notion of Irish heritage.
Such a complex question with so many elements involved! I just presented a collection of differing perspectives, and there are certainly many more considerations to be made in relation to this question!
I think you propose a similar question that I brought up in my post, does genetics matter over lived life experience. With Alice’s experience, I found it most striking that she shifted her whole identity when she found out her genetics which seems to disregard her whole life and heritage of her family. thought they technical are not the family they are still in all practical facts her family that she loves. She has not stopped loving her relatives all because she is not genetically related to them. I think people should care about their personal life experience rather than genetic fact.
I agree that heritage derives from environment rather than ethnic background. To see this in action, we can look at America and American identity. No matter one’s ethnic background, people who grew up in America will often identify as American, despite sometimes being relegated to a perpetual “foreigner” label by society at times. Growing up in America with American cultural practices gives people a identity connection with America. Likewise, Alice’s father grew up in Ireland with an Irish family and developed Irish cultural practices, so he had the right to claim an Irish identity. Even if he had known he was ethnically European Jewish, he still would have likely stuck to his Irish identity.
I agree with your question raised about what it is that makes you, you and how I would feel if this were me. I even raised a similar question to your first point and this made me think about how I would feel in this situation, I even called my mom just to talk about it. After asking her if there would be a deep family secret revealed if our family members took a DNA test and she confirmed there wouldn’t be I did begin to wonder. Much like Plebuch/Collins I was raised Irish-Catholic American and I think this has shaped me to be who I am today and I feel that at this point learning genetically I am anything else would not erase my Irish identity but possibly allow me to explore a genetic portion of my identity I was unaware of. But much like you said, it is impossible to say how we would react but I at least hope to think I would accept this positively!