"I never really understood what it meant to be Peruvian as a child," says Connie Chavez.
Chavez is a self-taught videographer who works at Latina magazine in New York. Growing up in New York, she didn't really have an opportunity to be around other Peruvian people. Her friends dismissed her background, assuming it was the same as any other Latino culture.
"Nobody understood what Peru was," she says. "It made me really feel bad."
Now that she's older, Chavez has had the opportunity to learn about the rich, unique culture that she is a part of. "I'm Peruvian, and I'm proud," she says. Her parents taught her about the history and culture of their Incan ancestors, and that’s what led her to eventually embrace her heritage. "Because of that knowledge, I feel powerful," she says.
Learning about her background boosted Chavez's confidence in who she is — and it made her want to get others involved. Watch her story below:
She wanted to do something about the xenophobia she was seeing in the world, so she started with herself.Posted by Upworthy on Tuesday, June 13, 2017
It wasn't just as a kid that Chavez faced misunderstandings and mischaracterizations of her culture.
During the 2016 election season, Chavez found herself on the receiving end of xenophobic and racist comments.
"It was last August, and I was feeling really low because I was hearing a lot of xenophobic things, racialized remarks towards me," says Chavez.
She found herself wondering what she could do to start a more productive dialogue around race and culture. Inspired by activist Carmen Perez and her goal of starting "courageous conversations," Chavez wanted to start some courageous conversations of her own.
"It is really hard to talk about race. It's really difficult," she says. "People feel uneasy, but that feeling is what creates progress."
Chavez decided to take an AncestryDNA test as a starting point for these conversations.
As she puts it: "Are you 100% everything? No, you're not, and there's no such thing as a superior race because, essentially, we all have DNA from the entire world."
Chavez's test revealed that she's 59% Native American, 27% European, 2% African, and 3% West Asian.
"After seeing my Ancestry results, I got to admit, I felt really powerful," she says. "I truly felt like a global citizen. It just affirmed what I always believed in, and it really gave me the confidence to reclaim certain parts of myself."
Chavez wanted to share the empowerment she felt with others, so she persuaded her coworkers at Latina to take AncestryDNA tests too.
Chavez worked with AncestryDNA to procure tests for her coworkers, and then the women got together at work to discuss their results. They broadcast the conversation in a Facebook Live video.
Many of Chavez's coworkers felt empowered by their results too.
"I would definitely say I feel a lot more confident in who I am, knowing where I come from," says Barbara Gonzalez, a former staff writer at Latina.
It's not always an easy process; sometimes seeing the results can be emotional and even scary. Chavez says, "It is a deeply profound, sentimental issue for some people, and I understand it. This is a big thing."
But, she says, it's worth it. "It's a beautiful thing to find out who you are."
[rebelmouse-image 19528787 dam="1" original_size="810x544" caption="Latina staffers discussed their results in a Facebook Live video." expand=1]Latina staffers discussed their results in a Facebook Live video.
Chavez's project demonstrates how learning about your ancestry isn't just about the past — it can also help shape the future.
With the help of her coworkers, Chavez used her AncestryDNA results to spark important conversations about race and culture. And she's inspiring others to do the same.
After the Facebook Live broadcast, she says she received numerous emails from people thanking her.
"When I started seeing the responses and the happiness behind every response," says Chavez, "I felt compelled to just continue the work that I'm doing."
"I never really thought of myself as a pioneer for anything, but really, starting this project really made me feel like I had a purpose here."