Milwaukian discovers family members through DNA kit
"Ethnicity." It's often a category listed on many questionnaires, but for Aleta Brady it always posed a problem: which box to check?
"I have a very racially ambiguous look, so it was anybody's guess. I never really had a solid sense of identity. People would often ask me 'What are you?' and I wouldn't have an answer," she said.
Brady entered foster care before she was 11 years old, due to severe neglect and abuse by her mother, who was manic depressive and an alcoholic. Up until that time she had been raised by her mother's husband, who died just after Brady's 10th birthday.
She had always questioned whether the man was her biological father, since she bore no resemblance to him at all.
Growing up in foster care means a lot of moving around, and so Brady lived off and on in the Milwaukie/Clackamas area throughout the years.
"While foster care had its own challenges, it was always a better situation than being with my mother," she said.
As an adult asked to check the ethnicity box on a questionnaire, Brady said she usually chose Latina, which fit in with the background of one of her foster families, but she still wondered what the truth was.
So, when the Milwaukie resident was recently given the gift of a 23andMe DNA kit, she took the test just to find out her ethnicity.
Brady said she found out she falls under the category of Asian, since people of Indian descent are considered South Asian.
"I love that I have a solid and distinct sense of identity now, of cultural belonging. I'm Asian, South Asian, Indian and, more specifically, Pakistani. It feels good to know for certain," she said.
When her son's girlfriend kept prompting Brady to go back in and see the 23andMe updates, Brady finally clicked on "Connect to family members."
"I just thought there's no way this is going to link me to anyone significant. (But) within a few days it had linked me to what they predicted was a first cousin named Salman Sajid," Brady said.
"I thought, 'Wow, that's an Indian name,' and we share 14.1 percent DNA. We must at least have the same grandparents."
Brady then sent Sajid a message, hoping that her existence as an unknown love child didn't disrupt or upset his family in any way.
She then found out that Sajid is her uncle and her father, Farid, was his older brother. Sadly, Brady also discovered that Farid had died four years ago.
His family "never thought their older brother had had any children, so my existence ended up being a huge blessing," she said.
"It's amazing. I went from being an orphan to belonging to a close-knit family with a rich, deeply rooted history. There are no words to describe an experience like this."
Finding a family
After contacting Sajid, Brady and her fiance decided to fly to Atlanta to meet him and her Aunt Iffath. She also met Arpie, her biological father's close friend.
Brady first met her aunt when she picked up the couple at the airport. She said she recognized Iffath immediately, not just from the pictures they had exchanged but from their similarities.
The two women are both very petite with a smaller frame than average and they also have the same dark, curly hair and mannerisms.
"It was so strange to meet someone who looks just like me. I've never looked like anyone on my mother's side of the family," Brady said.
"It's one thing to know in your mind that you are biologically connected to a person, but it's an entirely different feeling to actually see your own reflection in another person peering back at you," she added.
Iffath calls the miracle of finding Brady a "renewal of their brother Farid's life," Brady said.
"They have welcomed me into the family with wide-open arms, which feels fantastic for someone who grew up an orphan in foster care," she said.
"I have this huge, wonderful, Pakistani family now, who instantly started showering me with love and attention."
She noted that family members from other locations have reached out to connect with her and traveled miles to meet her. When they see her, they all say how much she looks like her father. "Some get emotional and shed tears, recounting their memories with him. It's been a beautiful and emotional journey. What an incredible world we live in," Brady said.
A father's life
When Brady was in Atlanta, she finally was told details about her father's life.
"The first thing every single person I have spoken to says about him is that he was extremely intelligent. He was a voracious reader," she said.
Her father did get into trouble when he was a teenager and his family sent him to Pakistan to get "straightened out by the elders there."
But Farid had grown up in the United States, so the experience was a huge culture shock for him.
He ended up running away and living on the streets in a foreign country where he didn't even speak the language.
"As a child struggling to survive on his own in a Third World country, he ended up getting mixed up in drugs and street life. This trauma haunted and followed him for the rest of his life," Brady said.
His family finally got him back to the United States, but he was never the same. He struggled with drug addiction for the remainder of his years.
"Despite his battle with addiction, he continued to be a source of love and inspiration for those close to him. At one point, he even loaned his good friend Arpie $30,000 for his coffee business," Brady said.
In his friend's honor, Arpie named one of his coffees Farid's Exotic Blend and occasionally sends Brady bags of it.
Another one of her father's closest friends shared with Brady that in his last years Farid had told him that his one regret in life was not having any children.
"It hurts to know that while I was growing up in foster care wishing for a parent, I had a father out there wishing for a child," Brady said.
She added, "Other members of his family have told me that they are certain if he had known about me it would have changed his life. It would have changed mine, too."
Meet Aleta Brady
Aleta Brady, 39, is a Milwaukie resident who works in the mental health field, mostly with foster children, some of whom are completely unaware of their patrilineal ties.
"My hope for moving forward in the future is that we can work toward using this (DNA) technology in attempts to connect these children to their families who may be able to provide a better alternative to the foster care system," Brady said.
"Every child should grow up belonging to a family, and it's tragic to think that there are foster children out there who may have family members who want them, but just don't know about them."
From the age of 11, Brady lived in a number of foster homes in North Portland and the Milwaukie/Clackamas area. She attended McLoughlin Junior High School and Marshall High School.
Brady moved back to Milwaukie almost two years ago, and met her fiance, who lives just blocks from one of her former foster homes.
"He was renovating an old dilapidated house in this neighborhood. I have since moved in and am helping him in this endeavor. Our plan is to fix up our house and continue to live out the rest of our days here," Brady said.
"I frequently see my former foster mother and her family as they pass by my house while I'm doing yardwork, and they stop to compliment me on my yard and ask how things are going," she said.
"We've done so much work on the house to get it into presentable condition, and the community continually cheers us on in our efforts. We could not ask for more supportive neighbors," Brady said.
"Milwaukie really is a wonderful place for families to live."
To find out more about 23andMe, visit 23andme.com/howitworks.
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