What Race Is Bruno Mars?

2012-11-12-brunomarsandgrandfathersmolenyak.jpgBruno Mars next to one of his grandfathers. This apple didn't fall far from his family tree. (credit for photo on right: PR Photos)

Which of the following describes the heritage of Peter Gene Hernandez, better known as Bruno Mars?

  • Ukrainian
  • American
  • Filipino
  • Hispanic
  • Jewish
  • Hawaiian
  • Puerto Rican
  • European
  • Hungarian
  • Asian
  • Spanish

The correct answer is all of the above. So riddle me this: What race is Bruno Mars?

Many have long said that race is an artificial construct, and as a genealogist who's been playing with family trees for most of my life and with DNA for more than a decade, I wholeheartedly agree. While the recent presidential election has certainly increased awareness of diversity in America, the more multicultural trees I research and genetic ancestries I explore, the more apparent I think the growing "melangification" of all this diversity will gradually become to everyone.

Folks like myself who are 100-percenters or half-and-halves with roots in only one or two places are rapidly becoming quaint, and families like Bruno's (the Obamas also come to mind) are slightly ahead of the curve. If you were to come back 100 years from now, I have no doubt that you'd find a lot more family trees of the Cloud Atlas variety with branches extending to every corner of the globe. But for now, let's linger on Bruno's for a bit. Here are a few things you didn't know about his roots:

  • He is typically described as being Hawaiian-born to a father of Puerto Rican heritage and a mother from the Philippines. This is all true. His parents are indeed Boricua and Filipina. But his ancestral pool also happens to be one-quarter Jewish hailing from Hungary and Ukraine (which perhaps makes the "dancing juice/Jews" aspect of this viral Marry You video even more fitting).

  • In the U.S., Hawaii, New York, California, Nevada, Puerto Rico and Texas all hold a piece of his family's past.
  • Bruno's Ukrainian immigrant ancestor, a one-time Hebrew teacher, entered America not through Ellis Island, but through the port of Galveston, Texas as part of the Galveston Movement. His future bride, however, was of Ellis Island stock.
  • This same ancestor was once banned from ever becoming a citizen, but after modifying his name (please see the Ellis Island chapter of Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing if you still believe that old myth about names being changed by immigration officials) and waiting about 20 years, he was finally naturalized.
  • 2012-11-12-brunomarsggggpssmolenyak2.jpg

    • As seen in this photo, continental blending in Bruno's family began a long time ago. This shows a pair of his great-great-grandparents - the father born in Spain and the mother in the Philippines - with two of their daughters around the 1890s. About a decade after her husband passed away, Bruno's great-great-grandmother remarried to a Chinese gentleman 19 years her junior, introducing yet another country into the family mix.


    • When it comes to Spain, it's Segovia - I'm talking to you, Nava de la Asunción and Fuentepelayo! - that gets the bragging rights.

    Were Bruno Mars to go on a world tour for the release of Unorthodox Jukebox, there would likely be unsuspecting cousins in the audiences in Madrid, New York, Kiev, San Juan, Manila and Budapest. So tell me: Which box do you think Bruno Mars ticked on the 2010 census?