As these involving and resonant books powerfully attest, the history of a multicultural family can serve as a microcosm for the history of a nation. These valiant,
inquisitive, and eloquent authors began researching their
heritage in order to understand themselves and soon discovered that the questions “Where do I come from?” and “Who
am I?” unlock intricate tales of love and loss, belonging and
displacement, adaptation and independence, tragedy and
Accordingly, these forthright chroniclers of the personal
and the communal have written wrenching and inspiring
chronicles of slavery and immigration, poverty and success,
separation and unity. These tales of American families offer intimate knowledge of how matters of race and ethnicity
enrich and complicate every aspect of family life, including
the multigenerational repercussions of racism, discrimination, and worse. The dozen titles selected here attest to the
stigma and boon of diversity, painful secrets, emotional and
social minefields, and hard-won revelations and pride.
American Tapestry: The Story of the
Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors
of Michelle Obama. By Rachel L. Swarns.
2012. Amistad, $16.99 (9780061999871).
Swarns presents the fascinating, many-faceted story of race in the U.S. through
the prism of Michelle Obama’s complex
genealogy, which leads through slavery,
emancipation, and the Great Migration; includes black, white, Native American, and
multiracial family members; and involves
choices and challenges, sorrows and triumph.
Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina.
By Raquel Cepeda. 2013. Atria, $25
Cepeda shares painful memories of
her highly dysfunctional family and
their struggles as immigrants from
the Dominican Republic in the U.S.
while disclosing the results of her DNA
analysis, which revealed a blending of
indigenous Caribbean (whose bloodlines
were thought to be extinct), African,
Amazigh, and European ancestries.
Twelve family histories
stretching across multiple
cultures and ethnic groups
tell stories both similar and
distinctly their own.
BY DONNA SEAMAN