If the PBS television series Finding Your Roots still isn’t on your radar, you’ve been missing out on some thought-provoking, emotional and genuinely entertaining reality TV. Currently in its fourth season, Finding Your Roots, which is produced, written and hosted by historian, filmmaker and professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., uses “traditional genealogical research and genetics” to explore the family history of celebrities invited to participate on the show.
For example, in Season 1, actress Michelle Rodriguez (Fast and Furious) learned some of her Puerto Rican ancestors married within the family. In Season 2, actress Jessica Alba (Sin City) finds out that her family played an integral role in creating a school in California for Mexican children.
In the most recent episode of Finding Your Roots, which aired this past Tuesday night, Carmelo Anthony, an All-Star small forward for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder and Olympic gold medalist, who was born in Brooklyn to a Puerto Rican father and African American mother in 1984, discovered a lot more about his familial history than he could have ever imagined. Much of his history was lost when his father, Carmelo Iriarte, passed away when Anthony was only two years old.
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“As I started getting older and started becoming more in tune to my Puerto Rican side and wanting to know who my dad was and that side of the family, that’s when all the questions started to come,” Anthony said.
Anthony’s section of the episode includes information he discovered himself. His father was a member of the New York City chapter of the Young Lords, a famed Puerto Rican civil rights organization, which was inspired by the Black Panthers, and fought for things like school breakfast programs and better health care for working-class Latinos. What Anthony didn’t know was about his deeper Puerto Rican roots from before his grandparents left the country in the late 1940s.
Revelations of Anthony’s past include the “mind-boggling” information, as Anthony puts it, that his great-grandparents lived together but were not married, and that his great-grandfather, a supervisor at a sugar plantation, had a second family, who he also lived with.
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“Obviously [both women] had to know about each other,” Anthony said smiling. “That conversation had to be deep.”
Even more intriguing was that Finding Your Roots was able to trace Anthony’s family history back to the early 1800s and his great-great-great grandmother Valentina Iriarte. According to Gates, Jr. and his researchers, Valentina was actually born in Venezuela and brought to Puerto Rico as a slave where she was sold or given to another family.
“It makes me feel open now,” Anthony said. “Open-minded to really understand where it all comes from. It changes a lot of things.”
You can watch the season 4’s episode 7 “Children of the Revolution” below.