23andMe Made Me Rethink My Identity—Twice

As my DNA profile changed over time, so did my concept of self

Peter Cho

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Photo courtesy of the author

One morning in spring 2017, I spat into a tube containing a stabilizing solution, packed up the kit, and dropped it into the mail to return to 23andMe. A few weeks later, I would get a report detailing where my ancestors come from. I was not expecting any surprises, but merely a confirmation of what my parents have always told me: I am wholly Korean.

When I got the results online a month later, I was shocked. The report said I was only 58 percent Korean, with ancestry percentages from both China and Japan in the high teens. According to 23andMe, it was extremely likely that I had a full-blooded Chinese and a full-blooded Japanese grandparent, great-grandparent, or great-great-grandparent. These relatives would have been born in the later part of the 1800s or first few decades of the 1900s. They would have lived less than 100 years ago and may have been alive when I was born. This was news to me, given everything I had learned about my family. Who were these mystery relatives, and what secrets were my family hiding?

Illustrations: Peter Cho

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Peter Cho

Founder, Typotopo.com. VP of Design at Brilliant. Formerly: YDays, Pocket, Medium, Google Project Ara, Inkling.