The Fear of Not Knowing

Transposing emblem by Jonay Quintero

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary online the meaning of “uncertainty” is a situation inwhich something is not known or [it is] something that is not known or certain. An obvious emphasis is placed on the words “not known” and el concepto of “certain.” We, humans, all have a taste for safety and certainty about the facts, el futuro, and even, the past (we will look at this later). That is what we have been fighting for over the last 40,000 años. Getting up at 4:30 am to work on una parcela of land till sunset meant a vast improvement over having to face a mammoth in a group or on your own; working in a factory was another improvement en comparación to having to plow land; and working by sitting at a computer is an immense advance relative to all the later. Each of these phases was a step towards safety, comfort and some sort of certainty.

No doubt, we all like to know that nuestros salaries will be paid at the beginning of each month and someday we will be able to get a retirement pension. La generación de nuestros padres quite often held the same position for most of their working life; unfortunately, los trabajos fijos are no longer available for most of us certainty lovers. It is not una aspiración irrazonable to expect the swimming pool to be full before diving into it (unless you are a crazy, drunk, or a vacationer intending to practice balconing[1]), but those times are gone, se fueron,[2] never to come back.

The adventurous ones will not miss them because uncertainty might be fearful, but is also the spice de la vida. La razón why some people prefer to remain in their comfort zones (trendy phrase nowadays) while others throw themselves blindly into the darkness of not knowing is un misterio that has remained unsolved since the beginning of times. Getting into the unknown is always scary but also liberating, seems like nothing else can go any worse when you are alone in la inmensidad del océano o space, or the job center queue… There is a certain strength in feeling alone and small like when you are in a desert or visit a foreign country on your own for the first time.

Muchas personas get hooked on that sensation, that discharge de adrenalina, and never manage to settle down again. They become wanderers. Just wonder for a second how it might have felt for the early explorers, navigators or adventurers that crossed an ocean, a desert or a jungle for the first time. They probably shivered in fear but moved ahead nonetheless. If it were not for people like them, we probably would never have come out of the cave.

Uncertainty about the future can be an important issue but not knowing about your past, your origins, must also be a source of muchos problemas actuales y mucha angustia. In this regard, I often noticed the urge many Americans have to know about their ancestors or genealogía, which led to the current hype surrounding the genetic tests that tell you, among other things, which ethnic groups correspond, in percentages, to the basic groups of genes that configure your genetic make-up. I admit now that I had many preconceptions about them in regard to this issue. It seemed to me that there was a whole load de racismo and old-fashioned pride behind this interest. As if they were all expecting to be descendants of Napoleon, el zar de Rusia, or some other figura importante, all of them white of course.

But now I see it from una perspectiva diferente. I imagine that living in una sociedad tan diversa, that imposes a single culture on everyone but integrates nobody, where everybody is Afro-American, Irish-American, Polish-American, etc., must be frustrating to some degree. Everybody needs some kind of roots, knowing where they come from to gain at least una vaga idea of where the heck they should be heading. I understand them now…I swear to God that I understand them because I did one of those tests myself.

I guess that I have always been interested in history…but the point is that for reasons that are my sole business I did one of those tests. I am not a geneticist and not acquainted with the science behind it, but the aim of this test is to find out what your paternal and maternal haplogroups[3] are, that is, en inglés simple, this test tells you what percentage of your genetic heritage is Eastern European, Asian or African, for example.

I am an isleño[4] and was born en las Islas Canarias, a tiny archipiélago conquered by the crown of Castile in the XV century. The aborigines, of Berber or Amazigh[5] origin, resisted los conquistadores europeos for 96 años in fierce wars that came to an end four años after the discovery of America. En la sociedad canaria today, there is un gran tabú tácito about your ethnic origins. The common belief is that los aborígenes were exterminated and nowadays isleños are descendants de los conquistadores españoles, and people consider themselves puramente blanca y europea. There is constant fear that if we admit otherwise, that will reinforce the claim of the king of Morocco who would take over the islands, force us all to become Muslims and we would go back to the Middle Ages.

Call it what you like, but fear is the most irrational of feelings. Once I was told about una persona who tore off a whole page of an antique registry book on baptisms from a local church because that was the only evidence of their aborigine ancestors. Based on the genetic test, the specific haplogrupo de los aborígenes de las Islas Canarias is the U6b-c, the very same that appeared on my sheet with the results. According to it, I am 64% aborigine, 32% Spanish/Portuguese and a 4% Black African. Of course, I am aware that esta tecnología is not so precise at the moment and if I do tests from several other companies I will get diferentes porcentajes, but nonetheless, with this sheet in my hand, I did not feel inferior to anyone, nor superior to anyone either. It did not change much about mi vida although… I cried as I have not cried since I was a child… As to why… I’m uncertain.


[1] Anglicism of the Spanish word balcón, depicts the custom of many young tourists in Spanish resorts, consisting in jumping either to a swimming pool from balconies several floors above ground or from one balcony to another, with the subsequent risk for their lives and other people’s.

[2] They are gone.

[3] Group of genes that have been inherited from a common ancestor.

[4] Islander or native of the Canary Islands.

[5] People give the name Berber to themselves, it means “freeman”