Suah & Pastor David Dabble With DNA

Ever since I’ve had the honor of meeting the one and only Pastor David and engaging in impromptu conversations with him around the office, we’ve had an ongoing debate about whether or not it is actually feasible to distinguish between various East Asian ethnic groups solely based on physical appearance.  

As someone with two Korean parents who has no reason to believe that she is anything but, being constantly mistaken for Chinese or Filipina has always been a source of curiosity for me. I’ve always wondered if there was any biological basis as to why I may appear so…not Korean. I mean, my dad’s side of the family did all hail from North Korea, which shares a border with China so, it wasn’t that much of a stretch to consider the possibility of there having been some intermarrying in my paternal lineage.

Clearly, my constant chattering about it eventually wore Pastor David out, and he so graciously gifted me with a DNA test kit for my birthday this past year. We decided to send off our saliva samples and do a video reveal together when the results came back (of which the most difficult part was not eating for 30 minutes prior to gathering the sample #snackersunite). 

And that brings us to the video that you are about to view...

Suah's Reflections

I’m not going to lie: the “big” reveal turned out to be very anticlimactic in reality because, not only did I find out that AncestryDNA does not differentiate between the various East Asian DNA’s, but I also found out that I am nothing but East Asian.  What?! 100% East Asian!? Who, in this day and age, is 100% of anything? This girl, apparently. 

So anyways, in my quest for additional information, I did a bit of digging around as to why AncestryDNA did not differentiate between the various East Asian DNA’s, and most of what I found seemed to point to the fact that the DNA of East Asian individuals is very difficult to differentiate, especially those DNA samples of Korean, Chinese and Japanese.

There are many thoughts and reflections that have been percolating in my mind following my discovery of my supposed 100% “thoroughbrededness,” but I think, overall, this study led me to reconsider some of the ideas I had always harbored about different ethnic groups and cultures. For example, many Koreans, both in the U.S., as well as in Korea, are notoriously ethnocentric in their ways (a pattern that I think is derived from the history of the country, but I think that that would be a discussion for another entry altogether).  I had always grown up believing that there were very real, very distinct traits that characterized each of the various East Asian groups and that these traits served to mark how different we really were from each other. And while, yes, there are some very real, very distinct characteristics of each culture, I am highly doubtful that these traits are as inherent and as immutable as I had once been led to believe.

Needless to say, it was very much a poignant experience to actually see that, genetically, the East Asian people were virtually indistinguishable, and to find that even differences that are perceived as more marked and visible, such as those that construct the concept of “race,” are more or less a reflection of a relatively small number of what makes up our collective DNA. It turns out we have infinitely more in common with each other than we do that is different. 

I guess I shouldn’t really have needed to pay money to a company to find out this truth as God made us all in His image and we all represent the Imago Dei (Genesis 1:27), buuuuuuut, maybe I needed another reality check. And also, I didn’t pay, Pastor David did, soooo….THANK YOU, PASTOR DAVID! You are forever my favorite pastor!  

Pastor David's Reflections

By universal acclamation, Sunshine Suah is Metro staff's most intelligent, enjoyable, engaging conversationalist on almost any topic, as evidenced by her office which is affectionately known as "The Black Hole". In conversations involving ethnicity, it was observed that without any cosmetic surgery, she doesn't have that stereotypical Korean look (whatever that is). This led us to wonder whether she may have a more interesting history of frisky relatives who may have crossed national borders to multiply and replenish the earth.

On my part, my sister who took a similar but more sophisticated health and ancestry service test for medical reasons, turned out to be predominantly East Asian (45%, with 33% Chinese and 0.5% Korean), European 44% and 11% Sub-Saharan African. Unless siblings are identical twins, they do not have identical DNA, as the 50% DNA contribution from each parent to an offspring varies with each offspring. Though my "muttdom" and "mongrelicity" was unquestioned, its variety was unknown. Interestingly, people from places like Jamaica and Hawaii take greater pride in the greater diversity of their ethnicity.

So with Betty's Christmas gift to me, and my birthday gift to Suah, we decided to settle some of our curiosity scientifically. In hindsight, we should have gone for the more expensive, sophisticated test rather than the basic one which has broader, general categories like "East Asian" which doesn't distinguish between say, China, Japan, and Korea. So this means that while our thoroughbred filly Suah may be 100% East Asian, this does not necessarily mean that she's 100% Korean. Unfortunately, earlier DNA testers and Japanese have muddied the waters by falsely attributing Japanese DNA to Koreans, and our president stated recently that Korea was once part of China! So Korean indignation and ethnocentricity is understandable in the light of these malicious or ignorant false news.

Also, with a limited sample population in many areas clearly designated as a "Low Confidence Region" by its DNA testers, results need to be taken with a grain of salt. Not surprisingly, my results were similar to my sister's, with a higher percentage of East, Central and South Asian (49%) and Pacific Islander (7%), lower European (35%), and similar African (9%).

Undoubtedly, our DNA of nature is a significant component to who we are, though there are other critical components of nurture such as culture, geography, community and family that may have also contributed to varying degrees. For example, in Jamaica our national motto is "Out of many, one people", so in principle, we embrace diversity, and have mated across ethnic lines without religious barriers. Historically, our political and educational roots lie in England, while in cultural and entertainment values are shaped by Uncle Sam. From birth, my primary community and family was deeply Christian. Similarly, Suah's formative experiences in Central America with a unique family and sub-culture have had recognized or unrecognized influence on her.

The New Testament's emphasis that with Christ there is no difference between "Gentile or Jew, [Chinese or Korean], circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free" reminds us of our common and equal humanity with its rich diversity, including DNA composition. Also, Metro's one word summary of "Transformation" (into Christlikeness) reminds us that while all ethnicities and cultures have been tainted by the Fall to varying degrees, Jesus' redemptive death and resurrection have begun the reversal of the death to our human race. With our new spiritual DNA as new creations in Christ, we ought not to rational-lies our behavior by claiming that the devil or our genes made us do it.

By the way, even though I may feel that I am Suah's favorite pastor, and that she's my favorite staff person, she has the unique gift of making everybody feel very special, and that they are her favorite person. There will probably be no need to enforce the 10 minute rule for staff conversations when she follows John with family to N Carolina, but we are already grieving the loss of this genuine thoroughbred (at least in spirit), who ethnic purity has not hindered her from being a friend and reconciler of people of varying pedigree, including fraternizing with mongrels.