I’ve written before about our peculiar drive to separate the various races, ethnicities, and tribes that constitute the human kaleidoscope. I’m not talking about the cultural or social differences that make life interesting (indeed, that’s the whole point of this blog). I’m referring to the common perception that there is something fundamentally different, even wrong, with people who don’t share our skin color or eye shape or nose width or whatever.
Many people insist upon accenting these differences, as if they were truly meaningful. This is despite the fact that scientists say that any two humans have at least 99% of their DNA in common. That’s basic biology.
So I was intrigued to read about the “Faces of America” series on PBS. The creators of this show “used historical archives and cutting-edge genetic research to trace the ancestry of a dozen famous Americans.”
They found out, of course, that Americans are the ultimate immigrants, and that even random people of vastly different races have common ancestors. To drive home the point, the show profiles Americans of different ethnicities.
The Hispanic representative is actress Eva Longoria Parker. The show reveals that she is a distant cousin to cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Their relationship does more than link the Latino and Asian cultures. It also does more than provide a funky six-degrees-of-celebrity anecdote.
The fact that Longoria Parker and Ma are cousins provides our missing link between high art and pop culture. Yes, their common ancestor passed down the talent to perform beautiful, complex musical passages of incredible intricacy. But he/she also bequeathed the ability to look hot while lounging courtside at LA Lakers games. We’re talking about a truly fascinating individual.
In any case, perhaps the best summation of the “Faces of America” project is from Henry Louis Gates (of the infamous Beer Summit, which I wrote about previously). Gates says, that when it comes to Americans, “We are all mulattos.”
It’s a good observation. And it is perhaps appropriate that he used a Spanish word to make his point.