WASHINGTON, Pa. — Alexandra Berumen thought she was European and Mexican. Wrong.
Serena Pierce thought she was Italian and German. Wrong.
Deitrick Stogner thought he was African-American. Partly wrong.
They and two other after-school program participants at LeMoyne Community Center – Kaprice Johnson and Daisean Lacks – submitted to DNA testing to determine their true ethnic makeup. They tested through ancestry.com and africanancestry.com in January, and four youngsters were surprised by the DNA results. One remains puzzled.
“No one is one thing. We’re all a hodgepodge of many things,” Joyce Ellis, executive director of the center, told a group of about 30 youngsters Thursday. They gathered in a room inside the East Washington center to watch a video related to the quintet’s quest to find out – as Ellis put it – “Who do you think you are?”
Videographer Allen Bankz posed that question in January, after the five test subjects submitted saliva samples as DNA evidence. One by one, from behind his camera, he asked them what they believed their genealogies to be and recorded their responses. The interesting part would come later, when the results arrived and the kids would read them – for the first time – for a second filming.
The comparison of perception and reality promised to be interesting.
The results, though, came back later than Ellis expected. She was hoping to have them in time for the center’s annual Black History Month celebration at the end of February, but the only ones to arrive by then were for Kaprice and for Ellis, who likewise wanted to be tested. The other results came in only recently.
Thursday afternoon, Alexandra and Serena were the only kids who did not know their true ancestries. Bankz was poised to film them a second time. The girls certainly weren’t prepared for the results.
Alexandra, whose father owns Las Palmas, a Hispanic grocery in Washington, found out she is 57 percent American Indian and 36 percent European.
“Surprised?” Ellis asked, smiling.
“Mostly,” said Alexandra, who looked mostly astonished.
Serena knew one great-grandmother was from Italy and that she had relatives from Germany and Ireland, but was semi-stunned to see she was 52 percent Irish, 15 percent Scandinavian and only 8 percent Italian.
Deitrick considers himself to be an African-American teen with a heavy concentration of relatives in the Chicago area. He also has a grandmother who is partly American Indian. But he is more European (52 percent) than African (43 percent), with a mix of many nations.
“I had no idea I was that much of a mix,” he said.
Daisean has an interesting ancestral link. He is a descendant of Henrietta Lacks, who has gained renown as an unwitting contributor to amazing medical advances. Before she died of cervical cancer in 1951, at age 31, doctors removed two cervical samples without telling her. Henrietta’s HeLa cells have been multiplied and used in a number of biomedical research procedures, and were instrumental in Jonas Salk’s development of the polio vaccine.
In January, Daisean said his father is African-American, his mother is white and his family is mostly from Pittsburgh. He eventually discovered he is 33 percent Ivory Coast of Ghana, 21 percent Nigerian and 13 percent European. He was the only test subject who was not on hand for the DNA program Thursday.
Kaprice received her report more than two months ago and still considers it to be vague. She was told she has a gene that traces back about 15,000 years, and has a European background – without a breakdown of that background. Kaprice said a number of family members have hailed from around Carnegie and Pittsburgh, and that her mother is Irish with red hair.
Ellis also was surprised at her results, She said she is 36 percent European, with elements of France, Germany, England, Italy and Ireland – nations she, coincidentally, has visited. Ellis said she also is 24 percent West African descent.
“I’m zero percent native American Indian, which I thought might be the highest (percentage),” Ellis added.
Yet she wasn’t totally surprised. When it comes to ancestry, the LeMoyne Center director realizes anything is possible.
“Skin tone is no matter,” she told her young audience Thursday. “It’s what the DNA says.”
Information from: Observer-Reporter, http://www.observer-reporter.com