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House Speaker Paul Ryan uncovers Jewish roots on PBS show

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) answers questions during a weekly press conference with Republican House leaders at the U.S. Capitol July 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. When asked about U.S. President Donald Trump's threat of revoking security privileges of political opponents, Ryan said he thought Trump was 'trolling' his political opponents. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — House Speaker Paul Ryan was surprised and proud to find out he has Jewish roots.

The Wisconsin Republican discovered his family history while filming a segment for the upcoming season of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.”

Gates said Tuesday at a TV critics meeting that he traced Ryan’s heritage back to his 10th great-grandfather born in 1531 in Germany. The research showed Ryan is 3 percent Ashkenazi Jewish.

“You could have knocked him over with a feather and then he was very proud of it,” Gates said of Ryan’s reaction. “We don’t know who that Jewish person was, but we know it was on his mother’s German line, which makes sense. So somebody who was a Christian German slept with a Jewish German person and that’s where that came from.”

Also featured on the show’s fifth season debuting in January is Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.

Gates said he chose Ryan because he was fascinated by him and not his politics. He picked Rubio because he wanted to include a Cuban and Gabbard because of her Pacific ancestry.

“Her genome looks like the rainbow coalition because it’s Asian and European and African and it’s beautiful,” he said.

MIAMI, FL – SEPTEMBER 20: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) attend a press conference about hurricane Irma at the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Miami on September 20, 2017 in Miami, Florida. Rep. Ryan and Sen. Rubio visited Jacksonville, Miami, and the Keys to survey hurricane Irma damage and meet with FEMA, Coast Guard and local officials. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Rubio’s history was traced to his fifth great-grandparents born in Italy and on his father’s side his seventh great-grandparents born in the Canary Islands, off the northwest coast of Africa.

“There was a lot going on politically and in terms of immigration for him,” Gates said.

Gates’ wife, Marial Iglesias Utset, is a Cuban historian and she had her graduate students research Rubio’s history in addition to hiring people in Cuba to find his family tree in parish churches.

“It was like a challenge, an intellectual challenge for me,” Gates said.

Gates said his purpose in doing the show is to deconstruct race and show how racism manifests itself in the current anti-immigrant feeling in the United States.

“We’re all immigrants. We’re all mixed up,” he said. “When the lights came down, everybody was sleeping with everyone else.”