Nature, Nurture, and Mexicanidad: Tatiana’s Story II

Back in March, I started a DNA experiment with five friends. I invited each of them to take a genetic ‘ancestry’ test – something that most of them had barely heard of, let alone thought about doing. After sending off their swab or spit sample, I asked each person to describe their expectations regarding their results: What did they expect or hope to find out? What would their ideal result be, based on their own family history, physical appearance and cultural background?

Over the course of the next three months, each of them received their results, provided by different US-based testing companies. After having some time to reflect upon those results, they have each agreed for me to post their reactions to their genomic data, and their thoughts on how they might (or might not) influence their lives and notions of identity. This mini-experiment is inspired by my own PhD research on the way genetic data interact with local conceptions of identity, ethnicity, kinship and nation in the US and Brazil.

Tatiana, born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico

When I received my Family Tree DNA results I was pretty surprised about my genetic origin percentages. Although I had imagined beforehand that I would have European genes, I never thought they would make up such a high percentage of my result, nor that they would be spread out across those particular regions. I was tickled to find that I had British and Eastern European origins, which allowed me joke to my friends that my affinity with English and Russian culture might have a biological basis – and that there’s more Russian to me than just my name…

When I shared my results with my Mexican friends, a lot of them teased me, saying I was trying to disown my Mexican identity by making out that I’m European. I think this reflects one of the potential negative effects that DNA ancestry testing could have in my country: to reaffirm classist attitudes linked to racial identity.

Personally, I don’t believe the test had any effect whatsoever on my identity, or on my feeling of ‘Mexicanness’, because when I think about my own family history, and about European history in general, it makes sense that my German, Italian and Spanish ancestry might have roots further back in Britain, Eastern Europe and the Maghreb. What really did surprise me, though, and what I couldn’t understand initially was the Central Asian percentage. But, talking it through with Sarah, we thought it could be linked to indigenous American populations, and that seems a reasonable explanation to me.

Preparing this text, and looking back over my results, I’ve been mulling over the question of who is the real parent: the person that bears you, or the person that raises you? I think, for identity, we can ask a similar question: does ‘blood’ make you who you are, or is it your context that moulds you?

I personally believe that you are more the child of the person that raised you, and that your identity depends on your personal experiences. On the other hand, when those experiences hinge on racial preconceptions, the relevance of these tests goes beyond mere curiosity. For me, though, the only thing the test inspired was a greater interest in knowing my family’s history.

You can read Tatiana’s original post here

_________________________________________________________________________

Thoughts, questions or constructive criticism about this post? Help turn this monologue into a discussion by leaving a comment (use the speech bubble button next to the title of this post, or write one in the comments box below).

If you have a similar or related experience you would like to share or talk about, or if you are interested in writing a guest post for this blog, please get in touch using the Contact tab at the top of the page.

Advertisements

A DNA Experiment: Tatiana’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.

Tatiana, born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico

What are your expectations regarding your genetic ancestry test result?

I imagine that I’ll have some percentage of Germanic ancestry, with some indigenous Latin American, some Italian, and a little bit of Spanish ancestry, from way back in time. My great-grandfathers was German and he married a Tzotzil woman, hence my German surname. Another of my great-grandfathers was Italian, although I’m not sure where he was from, exactly. My mother’s family have always been in Mexico, as far back as we can remember. There has never been any mention of any migrations in that side of the family, or anyone that came from outside; they were all mestizos with castizo surnames. Now that I think about it, I realise that I barely know anything about my family tree: on one side I have some anecdotal information about my ancestors, but I don’t know where they were from; and on the other, I know where they came from, but I barely know anything about how they met or who they were.

To put it into percentages, I’d say I’m 25% south European, 25% north European, and 15-20% indigenous American. And the other 30-35%? Just Mexican: mixed, mestizo. It’s hard to break it down. Perhaps I have more European ancestry overall, although I don’t feel European. I have big eyes, which might come from some Andalucian or Arab origin, and I’ve had doctors tell me in the past that I have a Mediterranean phenotype in terms of my complexion – whatever that means. But in terms of appearance and identity I consider myself completely Mexican. ¡Más mexicana que el nopal!

What would be your ideal genetic ancestry test result?

If they could tell me what percentage of indigenous ancestry I have, and from which ethnic group, that would be really cool. Or if I could find out which part of Germany my family is from, so I could know a bit more about their origins. I might have some African ancestry, since all humans are rooted in Africa. On the other hand, I would be really surprised if I turned out to have any Asian markers, since, from what I know about my family, I don’t see how that would fit. Then again, I’ve always thought my skin was yellowish-looking, so perhaps that would make sense!

_________________________________________________________________________

Thoughts, questions or constructive criticism about this post? Help turn this monologue into a discussion by leaving a comment (use the speech bubble button next to the title of this post, or write one in the comments box below).

If you have a similar or related experience you would like to share or talk about, or if you are interested in writing a guest post for this blog, please get in touch using the Contact tab at the top of the page.

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.

_________________________________________________________________________

Thoughts, questions or constructive criticism about this post? Help turn this monologue into a discussion by leaving a comment (use the speech bubble button next to the title of this post, or write one in the comments box below).

If you have a similar or related experience you would like to share or talk about, or if you are interested in writing a guest post for this blog, please get in touch using the Contact tab at the top of the page.