My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

"...I'm Chinese?!?"

Whoa, how did we end up in a new month already?


Okay, let me see if I can fill in a little bit of the blank space (Dude, you wanna get a copyright hit from Taylor Swift or something?) and dive back into all the weird stuff that's been happening to my laptop.

The Pipsqueak has been on a roll lately. Not only did she get straight A's on her latest report card, she also got an A+(!) for her Hebrew reading & writing skills in Sunday school -- yet another in a long list of academic achievements that far surpass those of her mother and uncle. Which is good!  The school system is currently involved with PARCC testing so she's been coming home with statements like, "I have a test tomorrow so I need to get a good night's sleep and Mommy has to give me a good, solid breakfast in the morning," and, "I need to do all my homework AND go to dance to practice for the show AND practice on my recorder AND read at least 20 minutes AND get to bed early enough for a good night's sleep AND prepare for the PARCC test tomorrow... I'm getting stressed!"  (This from someone still six weeks shy of her 9th birthday.)

There's still some very real concern under all the bluster and instructions. Math has never been Miri's strong point (and we've made sure she knows how proud we are of how hard she worked to improve over the course of this school year), and the next PARCC test includes math. I know this because she's made a point of telling me that it worries her, and she's "kind of scared" by it, and hopes she does okay on the math test, and so on...  We're all trying to reassure her but even though she'll say she knows that what really matters is that she just does the best she can, the worry keeps popping up to the surface.  (And it's helping Yours Truly remember even more of the things he detested about being in school. Ugh.)

Anyway, aside from testing worries, the Pipsqueak's doing fine.  Due to Mommy's recent job change, I now pick her up from after-school care and either take her home or deliver her to the dance studio, where she's busy practicing (with a small herd of other kids) for the upcoming semester-end recital. She's in FIVE different numbers this year -- it's gotten to where AJ's list of dance classes her daughter attends is almost twice as long as the list of classes she doesn't!

But on to the rather odd title of this post... (Dude, it's about time!)

I may have mentioned in an earlier post(?) that I bought a 23andMe DNA test kit for the Pipsqueak a few months back.  I'd intended to do that much earlier, but Maryland has some odd consumer protection laws that used to make consumer DNA tests illegal (or semi-legal at best); it's only in the last few years that 23andMe, and then Ancestry, and then a couple of other consumer-level DNA test kits became 100% legal here.[1]

Anyway, the kit sat on a shelf in AJ's kitchen for a while until her brother's slowly-increasing needling reminded her it couldn't sit for too much longer.  Miri was grossed out by having to fill a test tube with saliva but managed anyway, and -- despite forgetting to write down an important ID number before sealing the return envelope -- AJ got the Pipsqueak's DNA results less than two weeks after sending the sample to 23andMe.

According to AJ, the title of this post was the Pipsqueak's first reaction to the test results. (It was followed by AJ explaining to her daughter why, even though she's an American, she's also Chinese -- an explanation interrupted by her daughter bursting out laughing over her successful pranking of Mommy.)  She called me to let me know what the test results were and I'm glad to say that, at least genetically, my niece is by far the healthiest member of the family.

Not unexpectedly, she's slightly less than 3/4 "Mainland Chinese" (while still in China with her back in 2010, we were repeatedly told by locals, "She's not Han!").  Around 1/4 of her genome is "Generalized Southeast Asian," which includes a slew of countries in the region up to & including the Philippines. There's a scattering of tiny bits of other ethnic markers rounding out the mix; the only really common one not on the list was Ashkenazi Jewish, which I know (from watching lots of YouTube videos) is astonishingly common in non-Asian populations.

One of the more outstanding points in Miri's DNA report was how "unique" she is -- based entirely on the fact that 23andMe's Asia database is a fraction of the size of the American/European database. (I think it's less than 800 individuals en toto.) Not only does this exaggerate the uniqueness of her genome, it also means they can't narrow down her ethnic heritage beyond "3/4 Han, 1/4 other Asian." This is not an "issue" per se, but Miri is becoming increasingly aware of what being "Chinese" means and is also increasingly interested in that part of her personal identity. We know she's not Han (or at least not pure Han), but she could be Zhuang... or maybe Miao, or even Shui... or perhaps another even less-represented ethnic minority... or maybe even just a mix (likely with Vietnamese genes)... We just don't know, but we'd like her to be able to know, so we needed to figure out how to drill down through the DNA data to at least (hopefully) narrow down the possibilities.

I remembered a discussion thread in the Rumor Queen Facebook group[2] a while back about a Chinese company that would accept DNA test data from 23andMe, Ancestry, et al. and do a more thorough ethnicity analysis based upon their (much!) larger database.  A quick check with that group resulted in a bunch of answers (thanks again, y'all!), all pointing to a company called WeGene.  (Note: Their website can be a little slow, but the company's legit.)  I've spoken about it with AJ and we've decided that I'll contact them and upload or link Miri's data.  The results can be months in the coming, but Miri was so thrilled to get even this very generic listing of her genetic identity that we're sure it will be well worth the wait.

Oh, and about that genetic identity...

One small surprise in the Pipsqueak's genome is that she is 0.01% English. Yes, that's one one-hundredth of one percent -- but for some reason known only inside her complicated little head, she latched onto that like a magnet to iron filings. The result is that now she insists on periodically saying things like, "Mum, can we go to the pool now?" or "Mum, is it time for tea?" in her best Peppa Pig accent. It's even funnier to watch the reactions when she tells other kids she's part English.[3]

Anyway, there's a bit of a stop-gap catch-up on recent goings-on (and other hyphenated things).  I know that I still have close to half of last year's events to catch up on here, and I haven't given up... it's just that having my schedule unilaterally change itself on a daily basis has now been complicated by a series of problems with my laptop (including one late-night panic call to Apple Support that had the tech guy repeating, "It's not supposed to do that... I didn't expect that... You shouldn't be seeing that... That's really odd..." before finally reaching a happy ending). The result is that I will indeed catch up on all the events I took photos of with the intent to post them here, but it's probably gonna take the rest of this year to complete the task.  You have been warned -- and I really DO appreciate everyone's patience!

I hope all's well at your end of the wire, and I'll be back soon with another post!

[1]  I know there are many schools of thought on DNA testing, including privacy concerns. We all felt it was far too important to make sure there wasn't anything in Miri's genome going, "tick... tick... tick" to just sit back and wait to find out. (Coming from the IT world, including Internet security, I can guarantee that most of the "privacy" being "violated" is already, sadly, mythological in any case.)

[2] The Rumor Queen's old ChinaAdoptTalk site is long gone -- and still sorely missed! -- but there is a slowly-growing Facebook group comprised of former members of the RQ forums. It's a closed group, so if you're interested in joining you have to navigate to its home on Facebook (look for "Rumor Queen") and ask to be included. There's a lot of really good things going on in there, so if you're part of the old guard or still paperchasing, I recommend you give it a try!

[3] Miri never got to meet Uncle Max -- we lost him in the 1980s -- but he immigrated to the U.S. from his birthplace of Liverpool, so technically (in an odd, roundabout way) she's right.  I chalked it up to genetics via osmosis.