Academic journal article Journal of Multidisciplinary Research

Recuperating Ethnic Identity through Critical Genealogy

Academic journal article Journal of Multidisciplinary Research

Recuperating Ethnic Identity through Critical Genealogy

Article excerpt

Introduction

In 2015, journalist and founder A. J. Jacobs held the first Global Family Reunion in New York City with the intention of highlighting the interrelatedness of the wider human family, in part through establishment of a global family tree linking trees posted on various websites. For two decades, the media have noted the increasing numbers of persons fashioning family trees prompted by, among other things, the aging of baby boomers, a "sense of mortality" (Wee, 1997, p. Al), a "proliferation of Internet genealogy sites," and a "growing pride in ethnicity" (Shute, 2002, p. 76). After completion of the mapping of the human genome in 2003, genetic ancestry services also arose, offering stimulating, intriguing, but contentious complements to family history texts and practices, particularly when it comes to race and ethnicity.

Some critique genealogy as a limiting, "naval-gazing" pursuit devoted to, as Saar (2002) cautions, "your own culture, your milieu, your family, your genus" (p. 236). It could preclude a critical posture-an ability to individuate, understand, and cultivate compassion and action in response to the struggles of others. In suggesting that one cannot fully appreciate an individual genealogy without positioning it within a constellation of peoples, eras, and events, the Global Family Reunion stimulates critical possibilities. Labrador and Chilton (2009) attest that genealogy is not only "individualized . . . but immersed in the social concepts of geography, demography, citizenship, ethnicity, tourism, and diasporic movements" and, thus, "can be elitist and exclusionary, and/or democratic and inclusionary" (pp. 5-6). Moreover, Kuhn (2002) argues that family reminiscences and artifacts allow one to "explore connections between 'public' historical events, structures of feeling, family dramas, relations of class, national identity and gender, and 'personal' memory" (p. 5). Two questions arise. How can genealogy texts, services, and practices facilitate intercultural connection and inclusion? Where race and ethnicity are concerned, what are the common pitfalls and how might these texts, services, and practices address them?

In this context, the titular expression "recuperating ethnic identity" has two meanings: (1) Acquiring new information and insights concerning one's own racial or ethnic background that illuminate previous and ongoing struggles; and (2) Interrogating one's racial or ethnic identifications, uncovering contextual correspondences with other groups, and cultivating understanding of their historical and/or current circumstances. While a critical genealogy requires both recuperations, those who currently navigate racial or ethnic minority status engage in the first recuperation daily. For others whose ethnic background does not require sustained negotiation, this recuperation requires new or renewed effort. However, the second recuperation demands such effort of all participants in genealogy culture.

This essay cites but proceeds beyond previous research that considers various aspects of identity, especially documentary television series that genealogically profile celebrity or noncelebrity guests (see Scodari, 2013). Focusing on race and ethnicity and applying critical race, postcolonial, and other critical theory, this study considers these and other traditional and digital media narratives relating to genealogy and genetic ancestry.1 It also scrutinizes responses of participants and other practices, such as DNA testing for so-called "ethnic ancestry." It draws upon my auto-ethnographic experiences in recuperating my ethnic identity through engagements in/with genealogy websites, DNA testing, family interactions, and family history travel/ As a work of critical media and cultural studies, it taps into interdisciplinary domains such as American, memory, kinship, migration, and heritage studies, as well as disciplines of sociology, education, anthropology, history, genetics, and geography. …

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