A DNA Experiment: Rodrigo’s Story

My PhD research looks at genetic ancestry testing and genealogical practices in different post-slavery societies, and how these phenomena are influencing our notions of personal identity and human kinship and difference.

As a mini-experiment, I have roped five friends into taking DNA ancestry tests with me. We are from different national and cultural backgrounds, aged between 25-35 years old, and we are all awaiting our autosomal test results. I have asked each person to describe their expectations and hopes regarding their genetic test results, with the aim of highlighting the ways in which our national and cultural backgrounds – as well as our physical appearances – prime our ideas about what our likely or desired ancestral origins might be.

Rodrigo, born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico

What are your expectations regarding your genetic ancestry test result?

To my mind, the two points of references I have regarding my ancestry are the oral histories passed down to me by my two grandmothers, and the history books I studied in primary school. My grandmothers are both from the states surrounding Mexico City, in the central region of Mexico – an area that has no notable tradition of great immigrations or migratory flows, unlike other regions of the country that were named for the groups that colonized them, such as Nueva Italia and Nueva Galicia. So I have no reason to believe that my family is atypical in relation to what the history books teach us about Mexicans and their origins. Mexico was colonized by the Spanish, and has always encompassed a significant indigenous population. I think my result will be pretty much a half-and-half mix of indigenous American markers and Southern European markers, principally from the Iberian peninsula. My curly hair could indicate some minimal percentage of African genetic influence as well.

What would be your ideal genetic ancestry test result?

One interesting possibility would be to discover that I have Middle Eastern genetic heritage, dating back to the Moorish conquest of Spain in the Middle Ages. Another surprising result would be to find Asian genetic markers in my results – and this is not outside the realm of possibility. Trade links existed between East Asia and New Spain since relatively early on in the history of the Spanish conquest of the Americas: once or twice a year from 1565 onward, the Nao de China crossed the Pacific to trade Mexican silver for Oriental spices, silks, porcelain and other goods. Links between the two continents continued under the Porfiriato in the late 19th century, when indentured workers were brought into the country from China and the Philippines. Personally, I’d like to imagine that one of my ancestors was a Chinese pirate.

I’ve always had a keen interest in Norse mythology and, although I think it extremely unlikely, the most exciting possible result would probably be to find Scandinavian markers in my DNA. Actually, in Mexico there exists an unsubstantiated legend that the first contact between the New and the Old World was not with the Spanish, but a group of Vikings who arrived centuries earlier on a longship that went astray. When the first conquistadors made contact with the indigenous mexica in 16th century New Spain, they recorded indigenous accounts of an ancient myth, prophesying the return of the feathered serpent god Quetzalcóatl, in his earthly form as a white man.

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