Discovering my heritage and how it influences my work

I awoke with a jolt from a dream which later felt like a premonition. I descend from a very mixed background on my father’s side and for his 65th birthday I had an ancestry DNA test done for him.

My dad has often been referred to as a Heinz 57 (even by himself) a semi derogatory term for people of mixed background . His parents were both a mix of European and Asian decent. We knew about the links with Malaysian, Indian, French, Dutch and Jewish routes but I knew there were more, or at least I had been hoping.

My Popa (Grandpa), whom died when I was very small, only discovered that he was adopted by the Blades family when he applied for his passport to come over to England. He, I don’t think, actually knew much about where he came from or how strong his links with India actually were.

I had been impatiently anticipating the results for over 10 weeks and it had clearly been affecting my dream cycles.

I dreamed so vividly about the results finally arriving but they had an odd message attached saying there had some paint on part of the sample so the lab could not decipher the whole genetic make up. Although, in my dream, part of the results appeared on a computer screen which I frustratingly could not see. It was a pretty stupid dream I know but still I woke up, like I had been doing most mornings over the past few weeks, thinking today must be the day and it was!

Although the results are only half of my genetic make up it still means a lot to me to finally have some official answers.

For the past few years, post graduating from my degree, not knowing my heritage for sure had been playing on mind. Before that time I had just accepted my parents responses of ‘your at least 70% English’. Which, as I began to learn could not be possible because British people are not even 100% ‘English’. I can’t speak for my siblings but it made me feel like they were ignoring the facts of Human history and the maths didn’t add up. If my grandparents were likely to be both a mix of European and Asian then a DNA test would be the only way to spell out the facts.

I will fondly sit and listen to nan’s stories whenever I have the chance to visit, one of my favourites being how she and my dad spent 4 months of his first year of life ‘stranded’ in India. This apparently happened after she and Popa introduced him to his dying grandmother. My Popa, I later found out, had taken them during his 2 weeks off work but ran out of money after the first week so could only afford to return to their home in Malaysia on his own. He apparently told my nan, something along the lines of ‘your parents are well off write to them and they can send you money so you can return home’. It turns out nan and dad were not exactly stranded just staying with Popa’s family until my nan had enough money to leave. Despite my nan’s somewhat dramatic retelling, I still listened in amazement.

Like most families, I am sure, personal adventure’s are often interesting and amusing to hear when reflecting on a life past. My nan is not just well travelled but she always has a new ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ to retell a story about. I once listened for a good 2 hours on one of our phone conversations which was supposed to be a catch up after Chinese new year but transforming into ‘aunty’ Ying’s life story. Seriously, my ear grew numb by the end and I now know more than I needed to about a lady and her family that I have only met once.

These conversations and the quirky exploits about my Popa were things that filled my head as I read through what, for me particularly, where pretty surprising DNA results.

As it turns out the percentage results are not super specific to particular countries unfortunately. For this to happen everyone in the world would need to do one I imagine. At least then we would all discover that our differences should be celebrated but more importantly, demonstrating how we are all related.

On to the big results reveal then, 23% South east Asia and oceanic (which would be the Malaysian part) 17% Southern Asia (India/Pakistan) 16% Southern Europe (possibly the French bit) 13% West & Central Europe (Or this could be the French and Dutch part, unless I have another Mediterranean part we don’t know about yet!) 10% Central Asia (One I was defiantly not expecting places include Tibet, Mongolia and Afghanistan!) 10% Scandinavia (Not surprising as this was home of the Vikings) 6% GB & Ireland (I like to imagine this is all Celtic though)

Even before the process of this DNA journey I loved to hear people’s stories. Every human has one to tell from History to HERstory we can learn valuable lessons.

As an illustrator and storyteller I feel it is my duty to document such stories and the journey of the human race. It is especially important to capture and create characters through my drawings that properly reflect the society that surrounds us.

Art is a perfect tool for educating the misinformed particularly in regards to the recent happenings in politics.

I am beginning with my story, A rag doll fairytale to create images depicting a mixed race family. My recent discoveries into my own mixed background has only fuelled my passion to be bold and design work which reflects who I am and my beliefs.

Through my facilitation work as a community artist I am also in discussion about a project happening in 2017 to work with a community to print murals which illustrate family stories, their history, heritage and adventure’s.

I hope to inspire others with uncovering my ancestry and encourage others to the same.

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