Could you be an American Indian? November is American Indian month, and also a fantastic time to start looking into your past and trace your roots. I think many of us would be shocked to find out where we came from, and from whom we descended. Researching your blood line can be a fun and creative way to teach your children, and future generations will thank you as well. Not so long ago I found out some shocking facts about my own heritage, and I while it isn’t a story full of sunshine, I would love to share it with you.

Growing up I never knew my father. I did know that he traveled as a teen with his brothers and his father, living like a gypsy and never staying in one place for too long. My mother told me that she was told that my father was dead, that he had died in a car accident, but she also said that she did not believe this to be true. She also told me that somewhere out there I had a brother, but all she knew was his first name and his mother’s name.

There was one other tidbit of information that my mother gave me about my father, she told me that he was Mexican. This explained my dark skin, hair, and eyes. My family however was Caucasian, and they did not take a liking to my differing appearance.  In fact, I believe than many of them were appalled by it.

The racism began the day I was born. One of my aunts who was with my mom when I was born yelled at her, “Why didn’t you tell me you were having a black baby!” She was embarrassed and angry that she would be part of the birth of a black child. My mom still in pain could only reply that she did not have a black baby.

This type of discrimination continued through my childhood with the labeling of “Mexican”. I was constantly called names such as spic and wetback. My mom would tell me my grandmother lived in Africa. Being as young as I was and never knowing my father I had believed her. I would even go to school and tell other kids that I had a grandma living in Africa.

I think the most horrible of it all was the fear they instilled in me of the KKK. My mom and aunt would tell me that the KKK was going to come after me because they didn’t like people with my color skin. They told me that the KKK left crosses on the doors of their victims as a warning that they were coming for them. The plotted together to put a cross on our door to trick me, and if it hadn’t been for a family friend that had overheard them, they would have gone through with it. I was terrified of the KKK for a very long time.

As an adult I decided to start looking for my father. I always had dreams as a child that he would come and rescue me from my family, and that I would be with people who looked like me. That never happened of course, and as I searched I found out that he was dead, and had died in a drag racing accident in Nevada at a very young age.

However, I did find my brother and his wonderful mother who informed me that I was not Mexican at all. She told me that my grandmother, my father’s mother, was Cherokee.  I think there are times when I am still in disbelief. All those years of torment came flashing back, and I called my mother. Her response was to tell me that she knew I was Native American, they were just joking, and that I would always be Mexican to them.  They were just joking…. They lied to me about my heritage for 21 years, and then used it to make fun of me.

I have no other evidence of being Cherokee except the word of my brother’s mother, and I have no reason to doubt her word. I am very grateful that she told me the truth. I am now very curious in researching the history of the Cherokee, and finding out more about where I came from. I have been unable to locate my grandmother or my father’s sisters, but I am considering a DNA test just to see for myself.

I know that in the end race isn’t important, and I can be whoever I choose to be, but I think knowing where we come from is significant. Looking into the past and retracing the steps of our ancestors can enlighten us, and help us learn a little bit more about the past. As a parent I feel it is important to be open with children about their heritage, and help them to discover their roots. It’s a very good lesson in history, and for Native Americans a very important step. It seems that Native Americans are few and far between, and of all the different cultures living in the Unites States, they have gotten the short end of the stick.

Regardless of your ethnic background, take a moment this month to talk to your children about their heritage. Help them trace their lineage, perhaps by even making a family tree. This can be a great learning experience for both you and your children.

J.A. Williams is the St. Louis Parening Examiner at

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