finding your roots

Rare, but not in the way I had imagined

Shauna Winburn September 12, 2013

I first remember pretending to be “exotic” when I was around 6 or 7 years old. While playing with friends, I was always “Christina from Rome”, which was as exotic as I knew how to be at that time. My mom was adopted, and thourughout my young life, I always held out this hope that I was actually something different, something exceptional, something I now know as ethnic. Alas, when I became pregnant with my first daughter, my mother told me her birth name. A beautiful, Scottish, Anglo…non-exotic name. I came to terms with my extreme whiteness, holding close to the tidbit of info I had once heard that “just about anyone with Southern ancestry has some Native American blood in them”. About 10 years ago, I began researching my family history on my father’s side. I have traced one line to Charlemagne, traced another to an ancient Celtic King, and have traced others back to before people had last names. And in every new line I trace, I find the same thing: I am white. Very white. My life’s desire to be different, to be an exception, to be “exotic” would seem to have met its demise here. Except, as I sat and looked at who I am and where I came from, I realized I am actually very unique, very different from just about everyone else I know. No matter which line you trace back, I come from those very first pioneers who braved the unknown to seek a new life, a new adventure in America. In most cases, I am 9th, 10th, even 11th generation American. I am American in a way some people say they are “half-Irish, half-German”. And so, while I still feel beyond flattered when someone thinks I am Jewish, part-Asian, Spanish, or Greek, and while I still claim that 1/16th Cherokee Indian, I have a new-found pride in being exactly who I am: a rare, exotic American girl.

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About the Series

The basic drive to discover who we are and where we come from is at the core of the new 10-part PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the 12th series from Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Filmed on location across the United States, the series premieres nationally Sundays, March 25 – May 20 at 8 pm ET on PBS (check local listings).

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