With a last name like mine – Alanis – I’ve always wondered where exactly my family history comes from.  It hasn’t helped any that for the majority of my life people have often confused me for being Asian instead of Latino.  A few have even reprimanded “you don’t look Mexican!” in confusion and frustration after I could not understand the language they initially began speaking to me in.  “Are you sure?” …sometimes they continue as if though I’m only pretending for the sake of avoiding conversation.  These situations can get pretty hilarious pretty quickly.  Trust me!

What’s that saying?  If I had a penny for every time…

Michelle Rodriguez finding your roots pbs

Michelle Rodriguez explores her Hispanic roots on PBS.

Pero bueno, my question for myself after these encounters, then and now, has always remained the same.  What does it mean to be Mexican?  Or for that matter, Latino?

Does the fact that I “don’t look Mexican” mean I am less of a Latino?  What if I did not speak or write in Spanish?  Could I still be considered part of the Hispanic community?  What exactly would I be considered if not Latino?  These are all the questions that have driven me to do some of the digging I’ve done so far about my last name.  Totally unofficial, what I’ve found so far is that apparently Alanis is very common in Indonesia.  Maybe that could explain the whole Asian-Latino confusion about me?  Who knows!  What I do know, is that precisely because of these puzzling questions about my own family history, I’ve been a sucker for PBS’s Finding Your Roots since it first began.  The show takes famous personalities and traces their family roots as far back as they can, often revealing surprising truths about their histories.

I so would love to have my family history traced.  Too bad que no soy famoso!

On the next episode, which airs this Sunday on PBS and is the season finale for Finding Your Roots, Michelle Rodriguez, Adrian Grenier and Linda Chavez explore their tangled Spanish colonial roots.  They find that their various family histories include influences from Native American, African and European people – from conquistadors to crypto-Jews – who made the New World.  I’ll definitely be watching!  Here’s a sneak peek of what to expect:

Watch Finding Your Roots: Michelle Rodriguez, Adrian Grenier & Linda Chavez – Preview on PBS. See more from Finding Your Roots.