Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 1:22 EDT

Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the series that explores race, culture and identity through genealogy and genetics, focuses on Latino ancestry in the season finale this Sunday, May 20 at 8 p.m.

May 17, 2012

NEW YORK, May 17, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — What does it mean to be Hispanic? This Sunday, May 20 at 8 p.m. ET, the season finale of Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the PBS television series that explores issues of race and identity through the genealogy of some of America’s best-known personalities, seeks to answer that question. Through the family histories of actors Michelle Rodriguez and Adrian Grenier, and Linda Chavez – an author, syndicated newspaper columnist and political analyst for FOX News — host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. investigates American identities that took shape long before the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock.

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The three subjects of Sunday’s episode all share Spanish colonial roots, yet each views him or herself very differently: as Native American, Puerto Rican, Dominican, or simply Latino. Crisscrossing Mexico, Spain, the Caribbean, and the American Southwest, Professor Gates reveals underlying connections that show how Hispanic identity has emerged from the tangled histories of European, Native-American, and African peoples.

Such connections drive home the point that Gates makes in this series, as well as in his previous television productions: despite our diverse backgrounds and racial differences, Americans are much more deeply related than we commonly acknowledge. In the past nine weeks of the series, viewers learned that married couple and award-wining actors Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon are distant relatives. Viewers saw how CNN anchor Dr. Sanjay Gupta, comedian Margaret Cho and media mogul Martha Stewart had similar ancestral stories, though their roots led to completely different parts of the globe. The series also showed how Harry Connick, Jr., and Branford Marsalis, musicians and best friends from New Orleans, both had European ancestors who immigrated to the slave-era South in 1850. And viewers discovered that musician John Legend and comedian Wanda Sykes shared dramatic, long-lost stories of freed black slaves in their respective family histories.

For this Sunday’s episode, the Finding Your Roots research teams trace the families of Chavez, Grenier, and Rodriguez back in time to uncover parallel stories about the interactions between Spaniards, Native Americans, and Africans in the New World. Chavez’s roots lead from bootleggers in Depression-era New Mexico all the way back to Spain in the 1500s — by way of the Pueblo Indians who the Spanish sought to suppress.

Grenier’s ancestry also has a strong connection to Native American tribes in the Southwest. His 11th great-grandfather, Hernan Martin Serrano, arrived in New Mexico in 1598 with the territory’s controversial “founder,” Don Juan de Onate — and found himself marrying into the Indians he came to fight.

Similarly, Rodriguez’s family is steeped in the racial politics in the Caribbean, where generations of her ancestors interbred — with cousins marrying cousins — to keep out African and Native American blood. In the end, Gates reveals that none of these families were as racially “pure” as they pretended to be — and that Hispanic identity is far more complex than we imagine. Perhaps most surprising of all, Chavez’s ancestry links her to “Crypto-Jews” — Spanish Jews who converted to Catholicism to survive the Inquisition, yet continued to practice their religion in secret.

Previously aired episodes of the series, which were filmed on location across the United States, are available online at PBS Video. The season finale will air nationally Sunday, May 20 at 8 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings). Additional information about the series, Professor Gates and the entire production team is available at PBS PressRoom.

Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a production of Kunhardt McGee Productions, Inkwell Films and WNET in association with Ark Media. WNET is the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21, New York’s public television stations and operator of NJTV. For nearly 50 years, WNET has been producing and broadcasting national and local documentaries and other programs for the New York community.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Stephen Segaller, Peter Kunhardt, and Dyllan McGee are executive producers of Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Rachel Dretzin is senior producer. Leslie Asako Gladsjo is senior story editor.

Corporate funding is provided by The Coca-Cola Company, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s and American Express. Additional funding is provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Atlantic Philanthropies, Ford Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Support is also provided by The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and PBS.

About WNET
New York’s WNET is America’s flagship public media outlet, bringing quality arts, education and public affairs programming to over 5 million viewers each week. The parent company of public television stations THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, Need to Know, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online. Pioneers in educational programming, WNET has created such groundbreaking series as Get the Math, Noah Comprende and Cyberchase and provides tools for educators that bring compelling content to life in the classroom and at home. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Reel 13, NJ Today and the new online newsmagazine MetroFocus.

About Kunhardt McGee Productions
For 24 years Kunhardt McGee Productions led by Peter Kunhardt and Dyllan McGee has been making documentary films about the people and ideas that have shaped our history. Most recently, the company co-produced Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (2010), Looking for Lincoln (2009), Oprah’s Roots (2007) and African American Lives 1 and 2 (2006 & 2008) for PBS. For HBO, Kunhardt McGee Productions produced Gloria: In Her Own Words (2011) and Emmy award-winning Teddy: In His Own Words (2010). Other notable works include This Emotional Life, Looking for Lincoln, In Memoriam, PT Barnum, The American President, Bobby Kennedy: In His Own Words, and JFK: In His Own Words. More information can be found at: www.kunhardtmcgee.com

About Inkwell Films
Inkwell Films was founded by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to produce sophisticated documentary films about the African and African-American experience for a broad audience. Currently in production, Finding Your Roots, a 10-hour series for PBS. Most recently Inkwell Films has co-produced Black in Latin America (2011), Faces of America (2010), Looking for Lincoln (2009), African American Lives 2 (2008), Oprah’s Roots (2007), and African American Lives (2006), Inkwell Films is currently developing Many Rivers to Cross: The History of the African American People, a six-part series for PBS.

About Ark Media
Ark Media is a documentary film company founded in 1997 by the producing team of Barak Goodman and Rachel Dretzin. Ark’s mission is to produce documentary films characterized by rigorous reporting, careful craft, and imaginative filmmaking. Ark partnered with Kunhardt-McGee Productions on the Henry Louis Gates Jr. series, Faces of America, (2010) and also with Kunhardt-McGee, produced Looking for Lincoln (2009) and the upcoming Makers project for PBS. For the last decade and a half, Ark has produced films primarily for the PBS series Frontline and American Experience, winning nearly every major broadcast award: the Emmy, DuPont-Columbia, Robert F. Kennedy, Writers Guild and Peabody Awards, as well as earning an Academy Award nomination and official selection to the Sundance Film Festival. Ark has also produced documentaries for the New York Times, American Movie Classics, ABC, and the History Channel. For more information, visit www.ark-media.net.

Website: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/finding-your-roots

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FindingYourRootsPBS


Source: PR Newswire