Ask a Mexican
Dear Mexican: I recently took a DNA test to find out about my genetic heritage. It turns out that my “Mexican” side (maternal side) may not really be Mexican at all: The DNA test has 100 percent matched me to Native Americans in what now straddles the U.S. Southwest and Northern Mexico, with no traces of European ancestry. My mother’s ancestry clearly traces back beyond than the political existence of both the U.S. and Mexico.
The same test on my mother and her close relatives would reveal the same results, but everyone on that side of the family insists they are Mexican. (In fact, some of that familia would vehemently deny any indigenous ancestry, despite irrefutable scientific evidence … like a weird Mexican DNA version of the O.J. Simpson trial.)
What is the “Mexican race,” if there is such a thing? I understand Mexican history was at times bloody and oppressive, which is why any connection to an indigenous past was probably whitewashed away by my ancestors or someone else. At this point, there’s no way of finding out any specific details of an indigenous ancestry, so I’m just left with my family’s DNA.
So what’s a confused Mexican … Chicano … Hispanic … Latino to do? Technology has opened my eyes to a part of my heritage that I don’t really know how to process. Am I still Mexican? Am I Native American? What’s going on here?
Damn Nerd Assholes
Dear DNA: We have a saying in Mexican Spanish—“Tiene un nopal en la frente,” translated as, “He has a cactus on his forehead”—which is used to mock people who say they’re not Mexican, but totally are. That’s how a lot of Mexicans are when it comes to certain parts of their ancestry—we practice the opposite of the Cherokee princess blood myth claimed by so many gabachos. You have prietos who can’t grow facial hair, yet they insist they’re pure Castilian; grandmothers with kinky hair and broad noses who won’t entertain the thought that the familia tree has negrito roots; mothers who light candles every Friday night, because that’s how their great-grandmother taught them, and no way on Earth does that mean that her Mama Pacha was carrying on the traditions of Sephardic ancestors. Best of all are the armchair Aztecs who decry everything European, yet can sprout a beard as epic as that of that loco redhead Tormund Giantsbane on Game of Thrones.
In your family’s case, they seem to fall in the first example—a denial of indio roots. I’d remind them being Mexican is more of a state of mind than it is a race. (That’s why people like awesome actress Lupita Nyong’o and comedian Louis C.K. can claim they’re Mexican, but don’t, while a gabacho like Rick Bayless can pass himself off as the greatest cook of Mexican food on the planet.) However, being Mexican is fully anchored in the realities of pozole—that is, Mexico is its own spicy melting pot, with the indigenous part being the caldo of it all, and not some stray strand of repollo.
Let your family try to run away from their Native American blood all they want; the physiological Cortés called diabetes will catch up with them in the end.