Watch Adrian Grenier, Michelle Rodriguez, and Linda Chavez on PBS. See more from Finding Your Roots.
The Story of America
I have become a bit of a broken record.
Nearly everyone I speak to lately gets an earful about how much I love the show Finding Your Roots on PBS and hosted by professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
“It’s the story of America!” I say. “The things no one taught us in history class!”
Seriously. I remember, from history class that there were Spaniards and French and Colonists and white guys and slaves and Indians and there were wars and fights and death and wretched mayhem…and everyone generally stayed on their own side, unless they were warring or enslaving.
The stories of well-known Americans featured in the series reflect many our own histories – histories that include roots going back to a time even before the United States was the United States. It is amazing. And we are so much a mix.. Freed slaves, slave masters, European immigrants, Indians, Spaniards, Jews — all mixing, all having families, both by choice and violence. Yet, despite the reality of mixing, our ancestors created boundaries and rules, ones we still are trying to shake off centuries later.
Plus, how awesome to learn specifics about why our immigrant ancestors risked it all and willingly arrived in a foreign and distant place. You know what? It’s for the same reasons the immigrant family who arrived yesterday came. The quest for better. Nada mas.
I have loved seeing the DNA results of African-American participants, some of whom have a huge percentage of European DNA. A statistic quoted was that 1 in 3 African Americans has European ancestry and some episodes I watched traced roots right back to particular plantations and slave owners. It also is joyful to see young African Americans learning exactly which African countries and tribes their own maternal DNA links them to, information lost to them and their families until those lab tests came in. Roots are a good thing.
Spanish Roots in the U.S.
The last episode of the season featured Americans with Hispanic/Latino roots: actors Adrian Grenier and Michelle Rodriguez and conservative political commentator Linda Chavez, each who have Spanish colonial roots in the Americas.
The episode, shown in video above, is mind-blowing and awesome: Violent Spaniards, inter-marrying cousins, illegitimate kids, secret Jews. You name it.
While I know a lot about my Hispanic roots, thanks to relatives who have done research, I so loved learning more about these Hispanic families whose ancestors were here on this soil a long time before the Colonists arrived. It’s a great answer to “Go back to where you came from” or “How long has your family been here?”
And, Linda Chavez’s story revealed Sephardic Jewish ancestors who fled persecution during the Spanish Inquisition. It made me want to go get a DNA test, for that’s a suspicion in my own family. Also, Chavez and Rodriguez’s stories revealed a heebie geebie fact about the Spanish habit of cousins marrying cousins over and over again so that the line would remain white and in charge.
If you haven’t seen the series, and you love history, or want to know more about America’s immigrant roots, watch it.
If you’ve watched it, do you love it?