Recently I took a DNA test with 23andme, a genetic and ancestry service that allows people to supposedly see a breakdown of their genetics and which region of the world their ancestors are from. Being adopted from China as a baby with no information about my birth parents or family, these types of tests have always intrigued me even though there are several issues regarding genetic testing services which I will somewhat discuss later. I want to give a big thank you to my best friend and roommate who purchased this DNA kit for me for my 22nd birthday–it was such a meaningful present.
The kit looks like this. You can find them online from various sources (or the actual site) and I have even seen them sold in-store at places like CVS. Prices vary and there are always sales, so make sure to get it when the price is right. You can choose to do ancestry or ancestry plus health, which I think tells you if you are a carrier for any major common diseases or if you are prone to certain health risks. I only did the ancestry portion, so I am not quite sure, but I would potentially be interested in doing the health one if I were to start a family in the future.
You must remember to register your kit before you drop the whole box in the mail, otherwise they will not process it. The kit comes with a scientific-looking tube thing and directions on what to do. Basically, you fill it with spit until you reach the line. Make sure to not eat or brush your teeth before doing the test!
Unfortunately, depending on your area, it takes a while for the kit to arrive at the processing center. From there, it takes several weeks for them to analyze and process your data. I think in total it took about 7 weeks for my data to be posted online.
A little after New Years, I found out my results. I am a little hesitant to post it online in fear that someone will use this against me in the future, but maybe others will find it interesting, so below are my results.
Nothing too surprising there, but basically 23andme tries to break down your genetics by percentiles according to ethnicity. They also tell you your ancestry timeline (how many generations ago your recent ancestor was for each ethnic population), your ancestry composition painting (how much each of your chromosomes represents each ethnic population), and if you have genetic relatives. Obviously from the above information, it is not too detailed; it basically says I am pretty Chinese. Also, what does “broadly East Asian and Native American mean?”
It should be noted that many genetic and ancestry services are incredibly biased particularly towards those with European ancestry. These databases can also be politically or racially motivated in that only certain ethnicities that scientists deem as legitimate will be categorized. I am not too familiar with how exactly people choose those categories, but it is something to be aware of since these tests may not be as “useful” for those who do not come from European ancestry. In addition, I have also heard that the health section tends to only focus on health issues that are most common among European ancestry and not other for populations. I definitely knew this information going in, but for me, any information about my genetic ancestry was important to me.
It should also be mentioned that some people may use these DNA tests for the wrong reasons. For example, I have seen people take the test and find out they are some percentage (albeit very small) of an ethnic group they did not know they had ancestry from and make certain assumptions or claim a certain new identity. For instance, just because they are X% of some ethnic group you did not know about before makes them now feel that it is okay to stereotype or make certain jokes about that group. Of course, people will always take advantage of new opportunities for the worse, so that can’t be helped.
Other than my DNA results, I looked in to see if I had any relatives. One should note that you can only see your “relatives” if they have taken the DNA test with this company, so it is not completely reliable (but it may be a start). Also, I am not sure how popular these kinds of things outside the U.S., so you are missing out on knowing if you have relatives abroad. Interestingly, I have several distant relatives (fourth cousins or beyond) that live in the States, with about 50 from California alone. From what I can see so far, a lot of my distant cousins are females who were also adopted from China from nearby prefectures in the south. I have been researching about international adoption for my senior thesis (with the focus being on China), and I came across an article that interviewed families who actually chose to abandon their baby for various reasons (like I was). I do not exactly remember the data, but I think I remember reading that the prefecture where the baby was abandoned was not necessarily where the baby was born, so I could have been born somewhere other than southern China. However, because many other of my “relatives” who were adopted were also found in the south and the fact that I apparently have some genetic ancestry with the Southeast Asian population, I can deduce that my Chinese ancestry is probably indeed from the south. It also suggests that I probably have closer Chinese relatives who are still alive in China today somewhere, so that’s pretty cool.
However, I took it a step further and thanks to one of my friends, I was recommended to upload my data to another generic and ancestry service that focuses more on Asian, particularly Chinese ancestry. He recommended WeGene, and it is operated by mainland China. There is a completely Chinese website and an English one; it is free to use if you already have data from 23andme or Ancestry.com. It takes about three business days for them to analyze your data. Below are my results:
This was so extremely interesting to me and I sincerely want to thank my friend for telling me about this site. I do not think WeGene will be too useful outside of Chinese ancestry, but it may be worth a shot for those with Asian ancestry who want to take their DNA results a step further. I also really appreciate the map they give you. I am not too educated on the different ethnic groups within China, but the results confirm that I am from southern China. I plan on researching a bit more about the different ethnic groups and educating myself on their histories. Additionally, one should also be aware that WeGene, just like any other scientific database, has its own racial and political biases as the ethnicities mentioned are only ones that are recognized by the Chinese government.
After reading and processing my results, I was not really sure how I felt emotionally because I always knew I was adopted from China. I am glad that I have a bit more understanding of where my distant ancestors could have migrated from, but it doesn’t really change how I view my identity or live my life. I think it is very interesting because I have never really identified with my Chinese heritage culturally as I was not close with my grandparents on my dad’s side nor does my current Chinese-American family practice any Chinese customs; I have always identified more with Japanese-American culture and am more educated on Japanese customs especially now that I have interned in Japan three times and have visited five times in the last two years alone. I think I will have to dabble with my identity a bit more especially if I work for a Japanese company or work in Japan in the future as I know there are still issues regarding being a foreigner in Japan. In the end, I have to remember my identity is grounded in Christ and not my other identities whether it be gender, socioeconomic class, etc. which is honestly very hard for me recently. However, knowing that I am loved regardless of how the world views you and your ethnic background is quite hopeful and freeing in my opinion.
Picture by Oxy APAL