I proudly identify as Afro-Latina but I didn’t always, mainly because I had no idea it was even a thing until I was well into adulthood. My family is 100% Puerto Rican, both of my parents and their parents and grandparents were all born in Puerto Rico. Growing up, they always told my brothers and me, that all Puerto Ricans are “mixed,” so I’ve always known and understood that we had African, European and Taíno roots. But my identity was so firmly rooted in my Puerto Rican heritage, that I didn’t identify as anything else. That was until I had my own children.
My husband is bi-racial — African American and Caucasian — so that makes our kids 50% Puerto Rican, 25 % African American, and another 25 % White. We actually have a similar complexion, but both of our children are a bit darker than us. Parenting them and preparing myself to raise Black children has moved me to delve deeper into my roots and eventually it built in me a desire to learn more about my DNA.
I felt that for my kids to have such poppin’ melanin, I probably had a significant percentage of African genetics myself. I always knew it was significant, because I’m not at all White-passing, but my kids made me think my roots were probably even more African than I’d ever thought.
A few years ago, a study was published showing that about 60% of Puerto Ricans carry maternal lineages of Native American origin. Both my grandmother and great-grandmother have very indigenous features, so I also thought that I would carry significant Native American DNA. According to the study, the typical genetic breakdown for Puerto Ricans is 65 % West Eurasian, 20 % Sub-Saharan African and 12 % Native American. I thought my own breakdown would differ from the average.
I finally got a DNA testing kit for Christmas and about a month later I got my results. Turns out, I’m mostly average and mostly European. There were quite a few surprises in my DNA, starting with the fact that I’m roughly 57 % European, 30% African and only 12 % Native American. I was right in the sense that I’m a little more African and a little less European than most Europeans, but the difference is not even close to what I expected.
I expected my European DNA to be a little less than 50 % and mostly from Spain. The family that I know has traced ancestors back to Spain and France/Basque Country, so 13 % Anglo results were totally shocking. The Brits did not colonize Puerto Rico and if all the videos I’ve watched of other Puerto Ricans reviewing their results on YouTube are any indication, it’s not terribly common. The results also show paths of migration, and all of mine go directly to the island and then from there to the New York/New Jersey region. There’s so much for me to investigate. Am I descendant of the British invaders that didn’t succeed, but stayed on the island? I guess it’s a possibility, though according to records there were really only a few hundred of them.
I understand Portugal and the whole Iberian Peninsula-region, but I did not at all expect to be more Portuguese than anything else. I don’t know as much about my dad’s side of the family, so as of right now I’m assuming that comes from him. As you can see from the photo of my parents below, I obviously have always known he’s White (don’t tell him I said that though) but man, this 57 % is much whiter than I expected. I didn’t even get any Middle Eastern, which often accounts for a small percentage of the European in Puerto Rican DNA. Just straight-up White.
To be perfectly honest, for a few days after receiving my results I felt almost like I didn’t have the right to claim Black or indigenous status. I mean, I’ve never claimed those cultures as my own, but I’ve felt ethnically connected to them. My own identity — the identity I’ve grown into as a woman of color and mother of two multi-racial children— felt somewhat stripped after learning just how Euro-centric my genes are. Regardless, I am proud of my African and Native American roots. I’m proud of the physical features they played a part in shaping, I’m proud of the influence they had and continue to have on Boricua culture, and I’m proud of all that my ancestors persevered through. I’m proud that all of it is a part of me.
It actually brings to mind the whole Bruno Mars cultural appropriation thing that was in the news around this time last year and even more recently, the social media lashing the Grammy Awards got for choosing Jennifer Lopez to perform a Motown tribute.
I had to ask myself: Am I really not seen as Black enough to take part in Black culture? Are my kids not? For a while, I went to a predominantly African American and Latino elementary school where I didn’t quite fit in with the Black kids because I didn’t share their cultural and social experiences and I didn’t quite fit in with the Latino kids because I was born in New Jersey and didn’t speak Spanish fluently. As a brown-skinned—but mostly European Puerto Rican — what does that even mean in regards to who I am now?
One thing I know is that there is nothing straightforward about race, culture, ethnicity, and history in Puerto Rico. Things I thought to be facts are now questions. It’s not easy to think about what the colonizers did to Taíno men that didn’t survive. And what about those beautiful, strong native women? Just imagine what they had to endure.
The DNA results that I thought would be quite predictable, were anything but. The basics met my expectations but the details totally threw me for a loop. I’m definitely still processing all of the information my DNA testing revealed, and if I take nothing else away from the experience is that I now have an even greater desire to study the history of the island I hold so dear. It also hasn’t made me any less proud to be Afro-Latina.