There’s been a lot of hype about 23andMe over the past couple of years and some of you may be looking into finding out more about your ancestry, so I’m sharing my experience with 23andMe so y’all can get some insight into the process and decide if it’s something you want to do as well.
Why I Decided to Get My DNA Tested
I’m a Filipina American who was born in Austin, Texas before moving to San Diego, California, where I was raised and where I still reside. My dad immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in the 80s, and my mom followed in the 90s. They both identify as full Filipino, but they always understood that might not be the case due to centuries of colonialism in the islands. They don’t remember much about their grandparents, and most of my grandparents (except one) are deceased, so it’s almost impossible to get information about earlier generations.
My parents and I go to the Philippines almost every summer, since they both have family still living there, but last summer was my first time staying in my dad’s hometown instead of just stopping by for an hour or two. We stayed in a house built on the land my dad and his siblings had grown up on, so naturally a lot of family stories were shared — some of which I had never heard before. Someone mentioned my grandma’s dad was a Spanish priest, but later said he was a Aglipayan priest. Another said no, it was my grandpa’s dad who was Spanish, but he was in the army. It was all very confusing and led to a small existential crisis at the dinner table.
With these conflicting narratives, I wanted to find a way to confirm or deny the stories, or at least provide a little bit of clarity. I had seen ads about 23andMe on tv and it seemed like the perfect solution, but I was hesitant since it was pretty pricey and I wasn’t sure if I could trust results from a commercialized DNA testing company. However, I did some research about other people’s experiences with 23andMe and they all seemed to be positive, so I decided to give it a shot.
The DNA Sample and Testing Process
23andMe had a Thanksgiving promotion so that if you ordered two ancestry kits, they would cost only $49 each. The original price of one kit is $99, so it was a great bargain at two for the price of one. I placed an order for my mom and myself the day before Thanksgiving, and our kits arrived in the mail 10 days later.
23andMe collects DNA via saliva sample, so all you have to do is spit into a tube (after not eating or drinking for 30 minutes). When you close the tab, a liquid is released into the tube, which I assume facilitates the extraction of DNA from the saliva. Then, you seal the tube, place it in the provided specimen bag, and mail it using the pre-paid package. Register the saliva collection tube to your 23andMe account using the barcode, and all you have to do is wait.
My mom and I mailed our samples at the same time, and the tracking system on the site lets you know when your sample reaches the lab in North Carolina and what step of the process it’s on. Ours reached the lab on December 16, and it was estimated that our results would be ready in 6-8 weeks.
Around the second week of January, my mom got her results, but according to the tracking system, my sample was stuck in the same DNA extraction step it had been at since December. I contacted Customer Care, asking if there were any issues with my sample. The next day, I was notified that my reports were awaiting review and on January 17, almost exactly a month later, I got my results.
(One of my friends sent in her sample weeks before me and just got her results in February, so wait time seems to vary.)
To my surprise, I found out I’m 99.4.% Southeast Asian and less than .1% Broadly Southern European. I’m assuming that bit of Southern European ancestry comes from Spain, but it didn’t specify Iberian ancestry, which there was a category for. With such a small percentage, I either had a European ancestor in the very early stages of colonialism in the Philippines or a mestiza/o family member somewhere down the line.
There is .3% Unassigned, which leaves a little bit of ambiguity, but I’m not sure that would make much of a difference, so I’m not losing sleep over it.
Normally, I would’ve been more skeptical about these results, but my mom’s report corroborated mine as they were both really similar. She does have a slightly higher percentage of Southern European ancestry, specifically Iberian, as a result of generational difference, so it’s safe to say that the little Spanish ancestry I have comes from her side of the family (which came as a surprise when I told my dad’s side).
I was relieved to find out I’m almost 100% Filipino. My parents raised me in the Filipino culture as much as they could in the United States, and I learned to embrace my Filipino identity in recent years after learning about colonialism/anti-colonialism and unlearning the internalized racism common among people of color in western societies. So it pained me to think that my ancestors, my own great grandparents, were the same people I resented.
I still have a lot of questions about my ancestry, which may be even more difficult to answer now that I know we don’t have recent colonial ties. I would have loved if the Southeast Asian category was broken down further, as there are many ethnic groups in that region. But at least these results put my mind a little more at ease and gave me a direction to guide my future research.
If you’re considering 23andMe, I think it’s worth a shot. I wouldn’t go into it expecting definite answers, but more so hints to get closer to discovering about your ancestry.