By James C. Glica-Hernandez
December 8, 2012
On the occasion of my granddaughter’s wedding
The heartbeat in my ear begins
Nearly imperceptibly in its inception.
My breathing more puffing and halting.
The miniature lake that develops
In the inner corner of my eye surprises me.
My years pass suddenly, shocking me.
I gaze upon a resplendent young woman,
A graduate from high school. A bride.
My heart recalls her grandmother described this way.
I recognize in her face her mother and father.
Perhaps her grandfather’s skin color appears.
My inability to tell time or date throws me.
Who are this woman’s ancestors?
Twelve congregated elders claim her as theirs.
My mind rumbles, “How is it possible that I am one of these?”
Our granddaughter is married today and
I joined her to her husband as their minister.
My spirit reels with joy and temporal confusion.
Time lies when I look in the mirror.
I am too young to be a grandfather of a married woman.
My realization is that I am the one lying today.
I was the first man to hold my delicate Littlebits.
I danced with her at her wedding today.
My truth is that she is old enough and I am old enough.
Here are my raw results from the Ancestry.com DNA test I took recently:
Eastern European 35%
Native North American 24%
Native South American 10%
Southern European 7%
To my family, some of this may come as a huge surprise. I know it did to me. Various stories are rampant in our family about our heritage. These results add both clarity and questions to our process.
The verbal histories and documents for my birth father’s family are very clear. From my third great-grandparents, each responsible for 3.13% of my genes, generations of my paternal grandfather’s family are from Michoacan, Mexico. Many more generations of my paternal grandmother’s family are from Aguascalientes, Mexico. These individuals date back nine generations from me, some into the mid-1700s, which would account for one-quarter of one percent (0.25%) from each of my ancestors at the great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent level. We know the towns and villages. We know the names. We know the dates.
In my birth mother’s family, though, we have always learned that we are not Mexican. We are Native American. Period. End of story, if my grandfather’s stories are accurate. The challenge is that the groups with which we should identify ourselves are not so clear since each of my maternal grandfather’s siblings told a slightly different story. Apache, Yaqui, Blackfoot, Ohlone, and so on. Having not been reared in this family, being adopted at birth, I had to learn all of these stories after most of my ancestors were gone, and be able to decipher them the best way I knew how. Eventually, though, I came to a dead end with no document-supported, objective answers that affirmed any of the stories without question with regard to our Native American history.
Several years after discovering even what questions to ask, I heard from a cousin of mine, Catherine, who has been a vital part of our journey to discover our family history, that a researcher in Santa Barbara was asking for DNA samples for people believed to be, in anthropology-speak, Costanoan indigenous people, or those whose ancestry came from the West Coast of California. We didn’t know whether we were from this macro group or not, but we had found our people in the San Jose, California region for more than 150 years. We do not have information about where some of them were born. With this information, I offered our direct-line genealogy and a DNA sample. That was several years ago and still I have not heard anything. All I know is that my DNA currently resides in Germany with researchers who are trying to make sense of my gene pool.
Let me continue this discussion by giving some perspective to percentages in every person’s family lines. The following table shows what percentage and fraction of my genetic material each person in that generation must claim:
Parents 50% 1/2
Grandparents 25% 1/4
Great-grandparents 12.5% 1/8
Great-great-grandparents 6.25% 1/16
If more than one of my progenitors shared an ethnic history, and in our case, some even shared family history, then the overall percentages of ethnicity would be skewered, which they are.
Late last year, I heard that Ancestry.com, an organization to which I’ve belonged since 2004, began sending out notices that a DNA test would be offered. This wasn’t one of the “Y” chromosome tests for one’s paternity information, or a mitochondrial DNA test for matrilineal information. No, this was an autosomal DNA test where they evaluate a person’s entire genome at more than 700,000 sites, or markers, in the individual’s full 23 chromosomes. This was the whole picture taken from all of my genetic material. I couldn’t pass it up. I added my name to the waiting list. Several weeks ago, my name came up.
I paid my fees, and within a few days, my test arrived. I spit in the vial and sent it out that next day. That was about three week ago. Yesterday, my test results came back in. Several things happened when I received that notice: I had some information confirmed, received some new information, and realized that my DNA may be in Germany a long, long time.
The confirmation I received is that my genetic history is about 1/3 indigenous to the Western Hemisphere; 24% from Central and North America, and 10% from South America. The data did not specify from which side of my family these numbers came. Although I was not aware that any part of my family originated in South America, it does not surprise me that some part came from there because my father’s family lived so far south in Mexico.
The most startling bit of information I received was that more than 1/3 of my genetic material originated from Eastern Europe, which includes countries from as far south as Greece to as far north as Estonia. One fact that made me smile is that my ethnicity is likely similar in part to my adoptive father’s, whose Polish heritage I have always claimed as my own, if only culturally.
As a strange aside, this information inspired me to to remember my late friend, Miriam, who often said to me, “I just know you are part Gypsy!” Contrary to what some who know me well may believe, she was not referring to the alluring musical theater character of the same name. She was referring to the Romani people. She had no reason to believe that I was part Gypsy; however, more regularly than I’ve seen with most others I know, she often made amazing leaps of intuitive gymnastics. Could there be a grain of truth in what she believed about me? She said this on numerous occasions, most often just before she died. The circumstantial evidence is there. The Romani people speak a language that many anthropologists and linguists believe originated on the Indian subcontinent. When people look at me, including individuals from that region,they most often ask me if I am East Indian. Not Mexican. Not Italian. Not North African. Not Middle Eastern. Indian. Could others see in my face what our family has had no knowledge? Could my genetic history confirm their observations by the fact that 35% of my ethnic pool originates in Eastern Europe, the same place the Romani people have lived since no earlier than the 11th Century? Of course, this is simply a fantastical hypothesis; or is it?
The part that is most confusing to me is that I have no idea from whom such a large proportion of my Eastern European genetic heritage could have stemmed. The only segment of my family that originated from anywhere remotely near there is the Sicilian branch of my family. As far as I know, not one person can be traced to Eastern Europe, let alone more than one-third of my ethnic heritage.
The most expected part of my genetic information is the 7% identified as having come from Southern European parentage. With families in Mexico often having Spanish ancestry, and a Sicilian Italian ancestor, this made sense. The one question that arose is that with one grandfather who I believed to be full Italian, this number should have been at least 12.5%.
One small surprise was the 6% defined as genes that originated from the British Isles. That means that one of my great-great grandparents was likely English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh. The only problem is that I believe that I have information on all 16 great-great grandparents. Is this an indication of a secret that no one knew before?
The most difficult challenge that I had with the results of this test is a category called, “Uncertain.” This classification is for genes that have markers that generally indicate they derived from a certain area, but they do not meet the “extremely high standards” that Ancestry.com claims it has. Until they can be verified, these markers shall remain in this quizzical category. Could this be where the specific markers for small bands of Native Americas exist that at this point cannot be authoritatively assured? Could these be African or Asian aboriginal people that have so few people tested that there is no way to verify the data? Which of my ancestors are represented by this number?
The number itself is problematic. When I checked others’ levels of “Uncertain,” I saw numbers as low as 6% to as high as 16%. Why did I not see anyone with my level of “Uncertain,” which was 18%? This is nearly 1/5 of my genes, representing more than one great-grandparent’s genetic history.
As with any research project, often the researcher is left with more questions than answers. Such is the case with my DNA results. In this case, though, this is all so very personal. The good news is that I now know that fully 1/3 of my heritage developed from the Native American people stretching from North America to South America. On the other side of my family coin, I now have to figure out from where we originated because our information is clearly nowhere near complete.
Stay tuned for more information as we delve farther into our genetic past.
Tonight, for the first time, I wandered through the 1940 Census on Ancestry.com to find my dad and mom among the many names and addresses listed in North Tonawanda, NY, and Santa Clara, CA, respectively. There they were, 19 and 17 years old.
I felt a great sadness wash over me as I realized that the day my grandparents answered the interviewers’ questions, no one knew what was ahead. As I read their names, I knew what came next for each one on the list. Before the next census, my father would enter the military, beginning his career as a pharmacist. My mother would only have two more years with her mother before Nana died of cancer. Their lives would change dramatically.
There was a little part of me that wanted to whisper, “Listen to your parents, Mom and Dad. Learn from them as much as you can. Love them as though tomorrow wouldn’t come.” That is, of course, impossible. They had to learn from their lives the same way we all do. There is nothing I can do to help them see what they would miss. Even with my own children and grandchildren, there is so little I can do to forewarn them about the little things… perhaps even the big things… they will miss if they don’t pay close attention.
Each time I go to the well of familial information, I come out with another layer of ignorance washed away. I am changed. Today is no different. I look back, as I try to do less these days, and lament those lost moments; moments I don’t even know were lost. My heart is heavy as I remember them. 99% of my direct lineage are gone now. I see names dating back into the 1800s, 1700s, 1600s, and beyond. Names who never imagined me. Faces I will never see. Yet, they are my people. All of them. They contributed to my life in ways they could not imagine as they went through their days. They could not have possibly known me; yet, I am blessed to see them, at least a little part of them, in my genealogical journey. So, for that, I am deeply and eternally grateful.
I figured that if I lived into my 70s or 80s, I might have to watch my siblings pass away. It wasn’t likely though considering my health and that I’m the eldest. It hasn’t worked out that way, though. I lost my brother, David, when I was 46. Yesterday, I buried Miriam who is like a sister to me. Having lost a brother already, I know what it feels like to lose a sibling, so I can attest that a sister-of-the heart is akin to a brother-in-life.
I met Miriam in the student union of the college we both attended in 1977. She was studying liberal arts. I was studying theater arts and music. Although our relationship grew to be a long and joyful one, our first encounter was strained at best.
I plopped myself a couple of feet away from where she was reading her textbook, studying for her next class. Miriam was clearly deep in thought, but I needed a match to light my cigarette. I was waiting for a listening room to become available where I could listen to Janis Ian sing “At Seventeen.” Could I have been anymore of the angst-filled gay boy?
“Gotta match?” I queried, smiling like a Cheshire cat.
She threw me a Hydra-stare that would have turned me to stone had we lived in ancient Greece. I read her face to say, “I’m studying, and my education is very important to me, and your need for a stupid match doesn’t mean shit to me.” She didn’t respond.
Pretending I didn’t notice her glare, I repeated, “Gotta match?”
She closed her book, keeping her finger where she was reading so she didn’t lose her place. Looking at me square in the eyes, she methodically picked up the matchbook and tossed them in my direction onto the vinyl bench seat between us. No smile. No hint of charity for a matchless 18-year-old in dire need for a cigarette.
“Thank you.” I lit my cigarette and gingerly placed the matchbook next to her. For most people, sensitive to others’ body language, her response would have been a clear message not to tread. I was not such a person.
“How are you doing today?” I dared.
“I’m reading.” Her tone was as chilly as the North Pole in the middle of its six-month winter. Having a keen ear for these things, I identified her edgy accent as one from Brooklyn. By her beautiful black, curly hair, piercing dark brown eyes, and smooth caramel skin, I suspected she was Puerto Rican.
“Oh.” It was the only utterance I could offer in return.
There was something about this woman that was compelling. I wanted to know more about her. It wasn’t as though I was interested in her romantically or sexually. I was a gay man, after all. Yes, I was married to a woman with whom a child had arrived before our wedlock, but I was still a gay man. I sensed there was a connection there that was unexplainable.
I tried several times to incite a conversation. Each attempt was met with a silent glare or curt, one-word answer.
“Number 27.” The call for the listening room came for my daily visit. The stringy-haired receptionist didn’t ask what I wanted to hear anymore. I was a regular.
As I got up to lock myself into the tiny room for an hour, I simply said, “Thank you for the match.” Miriam deigned to offer a brief glance upward in my direction in reluctant acknowledgement for my intrusion into her life. I smiled, not so much because of her graciousness, but because I resonated with her energy so clearly; an energy I intuitively knew I would encounter again. I recognized her spirit as familiar. Perhaps it was in a previous life. I didn’t understand it all at the time, but life has a funny way of working things like this out.
Several months later, my former roommate with whom I lived before I got married, called to say he got a new apartment that he was sharing with a woman. He indicated she was a tough cookie. A Puerto Rican woman from Brooklyn named, Miriam. When she got angry at him, she would throw shoes at his head. He laughed as he told story after story about how impatient she was, and how sometimes, she would shoot him a stare that made his blood run cold. I don’t know how, but I knew who he was talking about.
From that day forward, Miriam and I grew closer. We spent time together, sharing our families with one another. We laughed, partied, and did our homework together. As time passed, we learned about our spirits together, discovering through one tradition after another who we were at our core.
Miriam and I spent 35 years in friendship, telling one another our deepest secrets and sharing our lives. I was the first man to hold her son. My children called her titi, the Puerto Rican version of tia or auntie. I stood with her on the altar with her son as she eulogized her beloved brother at his funeral. As a final confirmation of our connection, we found out through our mutual genealogical research that I am distantly related to her husband.
I visited nearly every day during her final hospital stay. Miriam died on my brother’s birthday, January 18, at the age of 61. I officiated at her graveside service yesterday. I stood with her only child, as I had 26 years before at his birth, as he eloquently shared what it meant to have his mother in his life.
I will miss my sister-friend. She has helped me grow into the man I am today. My life wouldn’t have been the same without her. I will never forget that day in the student union so many years before. I will cherish that memory for as long as I live along with all the other vivid memories of our lives together. Her artistry, kindness, veracity, and love are gifts I will be able to carry for the rest of my life. She was truly a Godsend. I know her spirit will fly free with joy and peace onto her next life.
When I was a young parent, my children would go outside to play with the other neighbor children. Although we might be inside, we would always be aware of where our children were, what they were doing, and with whom they were playing. As they grew up, we watched them become more curious, more adventuresome, more outgoing, and even more timid in some cases. They were forming their personalities into the people they would become as adults. As a more mature adult, I find myself continuing to do the same thing, only with new eyes.
I started my venture into music in February 1969. At this point, I’m an old hand in the industries of music, theater, and business. Now, I am beginning to see the up-and-comers starting to develop. Perhaps because I’ve crossed the 40-year mark, I am not so focused on my own success, but rather prepared to lend a hand, if invited, to those who will take my place when I retire, after creating their own place with their work. It’s not just in music, though. It’s also in the arena of personal growth.
The beginning of my new attention began almost imperceptibly. Glimpses of talent, tenacity, intelligence, and creativity caught my peripheral vision. These young upstarts started showing some real gifts. At first, I smiled paternally at the young whippersnappers as they started showing their mettle. Slowly, my focus changed. I’m now taking an interest as a mentor as they become my peers, working with great alacrity in my industry. Their sense of innovation, fearlessness, and indefatigability become a constant source of amazement.
Was I like this as a younger actor, musician, singer, conductor? Perhaps. I certainly did not see myself in the same way as I perceive these vital young people. I do recall, though, those who took the time to guide me through my growth. It appears it’s my turn to offer that support as our youthful invigorati, if you will allow me a new word, start building their curriculum vitae. The lines in my face are like directional arrows pointing toward extended experience to which some of these newer adults gravitate. It’s like that for everyone I suspect.
So, in the same way as I did for the young ones in the neighborhood 35 years ago, I again am keeping an eye out in case I am needed by a budding musician, a neophyte writer, or simply someone who is searching for his or her identity. I still turn to my elders for their wisdom because I’m not done yet. I still need guidance sometimes; only now, I live on both sides of that line. As I contemplate this topic, I believe I care for our developing success stories because once upon a time, someone else helped me achieve mine.
February 20, 2009 is the day I started Powodzenia’s Blog. “Focus Like an Independence Day Sparkler,” was the title of that first entry. It was brief and clumsy. It was sprinkled with mild neediness and confusion. I remember the day I wrote it thinking, “How do I start? And even if I do, who the hell is going to want to read this?” Today, with 50,000 visits to my site, I have the answer.
I could write until my fingers fall off, but if no one read my work, it would simply be a personal journal. That has not been the case. My readers, friends, family, and strangers, have visited my site 50,000 times as of today. Two years, ten months, and nine days, it has taken to see this number roll over. By the standards of major blog writers, this is a drop in the bucket; a day’s number of hits. That’s great for them. This is great for me.
My 256 blog posts have been picked up by NBA.com, StumbleUpon, politicians, comedians, and businesses. They have been linked to, cited, quoted, and copied. One day, on May 9, 2010, I had 914 hits. That was shortly after I wrote, “A Child’s Voice.” That month alone, I saw 7,711 people visit my site. The post that has been visited more than any other, with 2,921 visits, has been “Governor Schwartzenothing” that I wrote on August 18, 2009. This piece foreshadowed the disastrous results of that particular budget on California. All in all, I couldn’t be happier with the level of success I have with my little corner of the blogosphere!
Just like an automobile odometer or watching the ball drop in Times Square, the landmark really isn’t a landmark at all. It is part of a continuum that will move forward long after this moment is lost to history. I suppose it means something special only to me and those closest to me who understand how hard it was to write that first blog.
As one who spends his career helping others find their voices, I was challenged in trusting my own. Now, however, that has all changed. I have my blog and it has its own Facebook page. I love that. Fewer than 20 people populate Powodzenia’s Blog on Facebook, but that’s fine with me. Those who do are genuinely interested in reading my work. I have worked very hard to ensure that each piece is as thoughtfully constructed and well written as I can offer because I value those of you who read my blogs.
So, thank you, dear readers, for this truly amazing gift of 50,000 visits. I am honored and humbled by your willingness to spend time with my words, and by extension me! This truly is a site that has my heart and spirit and life permeating its paragraphs. You have each been a gift from God to me, and for that I am overwhelmingly grateful!
May blessings of untold abundance be yours always!
James C. Glica-Hernandez
I simply want to wish each reader and family a happy holiday season, no matter what or how you celebrate. Whether you…
Welcome the increasing light each day with the advent of the Earth-old Winter Solstice by dancing around a bonfire…
Remember the rededication of the Second Temple during the Revolt of the Maccabees in the 2nd Century B.C.E. with the Festival of Lights, Chanukah…
Celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, in Bethlehem 2,011 years ago…
Celebrate the dynamic strength of family, community, and culture with Kwanzaa…
Or, simply enjoy the jolly old elf, Santa Claus, and all he represents,
Our family wishes you and your family a season full of joy enough to make your face hurt from smiling, laughter enough to make your belly ache, love and unity enough to make your heart and life feel radiantly warm and incredibly abundant, and peace enough to freely enjoy all of the above in their fullness.
Blessings and Love to you all!
The Glica-Hernandez Family
I woke up on this particular November Wednesday having more work to do than I’d like. I couldn’t begin to imagine how I was going to do everything ahead of me, so apparently, my brain shut down and I began to procrastinate. As I was staring at my miniaturized Samsung Netbook, I saw the tiny dot that was the lens for the video camera. I opened the program and began to play. I wanted to see all the things it could do. I started making convoluted, misshapen faces with the video effects. It was entirely too much fun.
When I was done filming the snippets of silliness, I compiled them into my Windows Movie Maker, added titles and credits, and I had a movie. As I completed my film, I realized that all I really needed to do that morning was play. Sometimes, play is all there is to do; at least, for one’s soul. Enjoy the fruits of my labor.
Months and years go by when I feel strong and vital. My emotions are deeply felt, but not overwhelming. I am vibrantly passionate, but not out of control. Then a day arrives when the intimacy of a joy or sadness overtakes me, and I feel small and vulnerable. On this day, my mother-in-law, Eva’s first birthday in heaven, I find myself having one of those rare days when I feel a little crumbly. I am near tears and have been all day long. I suppose even the most durable rocks cast off dust, splinters, and shards sometimes. Today is my day.
I miss you, Mom… a lot.
Your son-in-law, James
Today, June 24, 2011, New York became the sixth state in the republic to provide marriage equality whether a couple is heteroamorous or homoamorous when their State Senate voted 33-29 for the bill. Previous states that have provided marriage equality include Massachussets, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire. The District of Columbia and the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon also allow the same rights. The population of these original five states equals 15.63 million American citizens. New York adds another 19.3 million people, more than doubling the number of citizens who now have complete freedom to marry the partner of their choice.
It is a momentous day because New York has shown that men and women of conscience can come together in honest debate and negotiation to structure a plan that works for all its citizens. There were compromises on both sides of the equation, but the whole is what truly matters. The New York legislature was wise enough to ensure that this bill did not affect religious organizations and their ability to choose the couples they would join. This has nothing to do with religion. It is a state issue of equality. The small details of their compromises will barely be remembered, but the wedding day that joined Dad and Papa, or Mom and Mama, will be just as important to their children as my parents’ wedding pictures are to me.
When my mother died, I went through her photographs. As the family historian, it fell on me to maintain these photos that included my parent’s wedding pictures from November 1956. As I wandered through the pages of this vibrant couple’s memories, neither of whom were now here to remember them, I recognized this as the starting point toward our family.
Now, the children of LGBT couples will be able to have the same memories as straight couples do. It is as important to them as it is to me. My wedding pictures with my now ex-wife, Barbara, from 1977 are still as beautiful as the photos of my marriage to my husband, David, in 2006.
As we celebrate this victory for equal rights in our country, we must also ask ourselves who is next? Which state next will take the appropriate actions to ensure that 100% of American citizens will see in their lifetimes a nation that will not leave anyone behind regarding equality. Equality is not limited to marriage. Equality must be pervasive in every area of our lives. If one individual does not have equal rights in our country, then none of us have equal rights. As it stands, some people continue to be offered more freedom than others. This cannot be what we mean by the beginning of the second paragraph in the Declaration of Independence when the signateurs affirmed:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
~ The Declaration of Independence (USHistory.org, 1776)
Since May 17, 2004, when Massachussets became the first state in the Union to finally attain freedom for all regarding marriage, our country has been on a trek toward consistency. Eventually, marriage equality will become the law of the nation, and our descendants will raise their eyebrows when their history teachers tell them that at one time, gay people couldn’t get married. As I’ve seen firsthand as a classroom teacher, this same response occurs when the young people are told that at one time Blacks and Whites were not allowed to marry. We do not call marriage between mixed-race couples anything other than marriage. That is the way it will be in the years to come about marriage for same-sex couples. It will simply be marriage.
In many ways, our country is like a majestic redwood; no matter how much shade is in our way, we always stretch toward the light. Today, we have stretched a little bit higher toward that light.
“2010 Resident Population Data” (2010) U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved June 24, 2011 f
USHistory.org (1999) “The Declaration of Independence.” USHistory.org. Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/.