Your genetics do not define you, but they can help inform your identity, and for Latinos — people who trace their ancestry to the ethnically diverse regions of Latin America — DNA testing often helps them discover unexpected insights into their roots.
In the midst of National Hispanic Heritage Month, 23andMe wanted to take a moment to look at what testing can uncover for those with Latino ancestry. (We prefer the term Latino, because it encompasses non-Spanish speaking populations in Latin America, like those in Brazil.)
The one thing that genetic testing won’t tell you is whether or not you are Latino or Hispanic. That’s because people from Latin America typically are a mix of European, African, and Native American ancestry. You might also find Middle Eastern, East Asian and Ashkenazi ancestry folded into your results. And as much as it is in the DNA, that rich mixture of ancestry is also embedded in the art, music, and food that make up Latino culture.
We are reminded of the history of the region because the DNA includes the signature of the Native American people’s who first populated the continent, as well as the Europeans — mostly from Iberia but from a mix of European countries — who settled here, and the Africans who were brought here as slaves. So for example, on average, people of Mexico have about 4 percent African ancestry, while for the average Puerto Rican the percentage is much higher.
This can be surprising for some Latinos who do DNA testing, or it can remind them of their history, as we’ve heard from 23andMe customers who have shared their stories with us. For Franciso Caravayo, whose family came from Puerto Rico and were deeply Catholic, testing helped uncover that his family descended from Conversos — Portuguese and Spanish Jews who fled to Latin America to escape persecution.
For many, testing just reminds them of their history, as was so humorously done by a group of Latinos at Buzzfeed a few years back. They had roots in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, but their tests often revealed the something unexpected.
“It’s nice to know we’re all part of the world around us,” said Curley Vasquez.
More recently Carols Arias Vivas, a Mexican American college student, recently wrote about how his results reminded him of the history he already knew. And yet he also related that his results didn’t define who he was.
“To be completely honest, these results were not shocking,” he said in a student paper at the University of Pennsylvania. “After learning the history of colonization and the Slave Trade, it makes sense why my ancestry composition has a mixture of European, African, and Indigenous makeup.”
DNA testing for Latinos reveals the rich mosaic of history that make up their heritage.