Genomics, Race Mixture, and Nation
in Latin America
Peter Wade, Carlos López Beltrán, Eduardo Restrepo, and Ricardo Ventura Santos
his book presents findings from an interdisciplinary project involving three
teams working in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. Collaborating
closely, the teams carried out in- depth research in a small number of genetics
laboratories in these countries, while also drawing on local histories of physi-
cal anthropological and biomedical research into human biological diversity.
Laboratories in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico have been mapping the ge-
nomes of local populations, with the objectives of locating the genetic basis
of diseases and of tracing population histories. Geneticists are frequently con-
cerned to calculate the European, African, and Amerindian genetic ancestry of
these populations or to compare them to samples of European or Amerindian
populations. In the process, scientists sometimes link their findings explicitly
to questions of national identity, racial- ethnic or population difference, and
(anti)racism, stimulating public debate and sometimes engaging in the defini-
tion of public policies.
The chapters in this book explore how the concepts of race, ethnicity, na-
tion, and gender enter into these scientific endeavors and whether these con-
cepts are reproduced, challenged, or reformulated in the process. Our work
links current research in genetics to recent changes in the three countries,
which in the last two decades have moved toward official multiculturalism, as
have many countries in Latin America. The way genetics creates new imagined
genetic communities, which may take forms that, to observers outside the ge-
netic field including experts from other areas (anthropologists, sociologists,
historians, etc.) and laypeople, might appear to have racialized and national
dimensions, has implications not only for changing conceptions of race, eth-
nicity, and nation, but also for citizenship and social inclusion and exclusion.
The growing literature on race, identity, and genomics focuses mainly on
the United States and Europe. Latin America, with its national identities based
on mestizaje or mestiçagem (roughly translatable as “race mixture” in Span-
ish and Portuguese, respectively), presents a fascinating but little- explored
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