“You are the face of the future.”
An acquaintance once said this to me when we first met. He uttered it emphatically, as if it was a wondrous revelation. It felt like an enormous compliment. “Thank you, so are you!” I replied.
Of all the statements about my multiracial “mixed” features, indeed of all the comments about my appearance, you are the face of the future has a special ring to it. It seems so alluring. There is a fierce optimism to it. As if my face itself held a revolution. As if I held the ideal future in my DNA.
As much as I would like to be a part of the future—the better, brighter future, I’m sure that everyone wants to be a part of it too. No one wants their existence to be diminished or dismissed. Not now, certainly not for posterity. What that ideal future would look like and how we go about achieving it—that’s where we differ, that’s what we argue about and shed blood over.
To me, the ideal future is a green, technologically advanced utopia, where massive problems such as poverty and pollution have been left behind for good. Where no one must fight for basic human rights, or the necessities of food, water, shelter and healthcare. Where education, opportunity and dignity are given to all humans, freely and readily. I would also like to see an end to senseless violence. If even just one of these dreams could inch closer to becoming a reality, it would be a massive leap in the right direction. However, I am no idealist. I do not dream of a world of total predictability, without any danger or risk, struggle or pain.
But who am I to say I know what’s right for humanity? Who am I to conceive of any kind of progress? Who am I to even allude to being the face to the future? What is anyone’s claim to any of this anyway?
To any endangered animal, the best future would be one without any humans in it; to a redwood tree, the prospect of more sunlight, clean water and nutrients; to a fish, an end to pollution and fishing; to people already wealthy and powerful, more supporters giving them and their descendants more power; to the poor and marginalized, even wealth distribution and equal representation. (Note: I write “even” and “equal” on the assumption that the poor and marginalized would not want to extend this terrible fate to others by wanting more than just a fair share!) It is our nature to wish for any opportunity, big or small, to tip the scales in our favor.
Where our progress begins and another being’s progress ends is where our grandest concepts materialize to explain why it must be so. Religion, democracy, imperialism, fascism, communism, humanism, even investment and taxation, all are driven and supported by ideas of progress, of the work needed in the present to achieve a better tomorrow (or heavenly afterlife). Behind the rhetoric of every politician, preacher, any thought leader, charlatan or street hustler is the promise of a generous reward for the often arduous task at hand. A collective motivation for the individual sacrifice—something bigger, broader, more valuable than oneself. I do not profess to be any different. After all, I desire a future that would please the likes of humanists such as of Martin Luther King Jr., Malala Yousafzai, and the Parkland Teens, any of whom are vastly more deserving to be the face of the future than I am.
As much as I would love to be the face of the future, the truth of who I am, how I came to be—all the histories that culminate into this precise present may not be at all uplifting. As far as I know, I am actually a product of the colonialist past, a past that was often oppressive and violent, a history of injustice and brutal subjugation. As much as we love to dream about the great progress and advancement of a beautiful someday not too far-away, if we don’t reckon with this past, we may never solve the glaring problems of the present and create a future we all want.
A short time ago, I decided to examine my past in letters, not only through the letters of the English language, but also in the four-letter sequence of my DNA code. Both have incredible power in their multitudes of combinations. As humans, we may not share the same language, but we all share 99.9% percent of the same DNA code. I had the overwhelming desire to learn if a disparity exists between this new genetic evidence and the notions of who I am told to me by my family and by society. I decided to send a sample of my DNA to a lab for analysis.
Currently, the results still remain a mystery and they would have remained so had I not changed my mind. Ironically, I was and still am the most reluctant candidate for genetic testing. I am strongly resistant to identifying with any specific group or categorizing people rigidly by their race or religion. Having been subjected to hurtful prejudice and racism myself, I can only urge others to be extremely wary of groupings and of group mentalities. Although everyone should be proud of who they are and where they come from, being of mixed race and having a multicultural background has, at times, been an overcomplicated identity struggle for me. I often find myself pinpointing and letting go of preconceived notions of who I am, what I’m supposed to be, or of the people like me.
Just how disparate is my reality from the expectations and assumptions? My story from the other stories overwriting mine? My truth from the truths of others?
The world is vast compared to one human brain. The universe is vast compared to all the humans on the planet. Yet, somehow, certain people can claim to know most of it and be believed. I do not profess to know very much at all. But I am finally ready to explore, observe and report back.
This marks the beginning of my journey into my origins and I hope you will join me! I will retrace my past as I reflect on my identity and my struggles even as I try to conceive a better future—one more resilient, inclusive and tantalizingly approachable. These essays will become part of a series on this blog called “Origins” and they will be gathered in a complete book called The Origins of New Life, which will culminate with the results of my genetic testing and further revelations. I’m looking forward to sharing it all here with you!
Text and images by M.P. Baecker © 2018.