Q. What makes FACES OF AMERICA so special?
Gates: After my work on the African American Lives series, I got thousands of letters from people all over America saying, “Why not do my history?” So, I decided to do the same kind of analysis and research on people of Irish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and other ethnicities, and the results are just as dramatic as in African American Lives. All of the guests on FACES OF AMERICA were deeply moved by what we revealed about their ancestry. We were able to trace the ancestry of Native American writer Louise Erdrich back to 438 A.D. We found that Queen Noor is descended from royalty, and that’s before she married King Hussein of Jordan. We found that the African American poet Elizabeth Alexander is related to the emperor Charlemagne!
We went even further and used DNA analysis to look for “deep cousins” — common ancestors among our guests — and we found genetic connections between eleven of our twelve guests. I found that despite all our apparent differences in terms of culture and history, we are all the same.
Q: So what’s next for you? Were you left with any questions after completing FACES OF AMERICA?
Gates: I found it astonishing that some of our guests, despite their ethnic differences, were related. I would like to do a series about sequencing the human genome, and also analyze more human diversity among other ethnic groups – a FACES OF AMERICA 2.