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my family history


jakecaller
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jakecaller

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

Refusniks

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

Cherokee

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  

Disappeared  

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, 

Me 

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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Ethnicity/ancestry/heritage in general is fascinating, as is your analysis of your own. I was born in Massachusetts, but I'm first generation American; my parents are both from Estonia. I speak the language fluently.

I've read about the origin of the Estonian people, and it's very much a mystery; there are several theories, but no concrete evidence. Estonian, along with Finnish and Hungarian, is one of the few languages in Europe that is not Proto-European. I'm white, but I'm not Caucasian. Then again, I could have some of that. After all, throughout history, Estonia was occupied by numerous European and other peoples (Germans, Danes, Swedes, and Russians to name a few).

Tony

Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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