Race, Genetic Ancestry, & Discourses of Belonging in Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, nationalist discourses have diminished the importance of African heritage. Consequently, African descendant Puerto Rican experience and ancestry is undervalued and understudied. In collaboration with Corporación Piñones se Integra (COPI) and cultural anthropologist, Dr. Gabriel Torres Colón, the GABS lab aims to document the genetic ancestry and conceptions of community and community belonging among African descendant Puerto Ricans.

The first objective of this project is to identify the genetic origins of African descendant Puerto Ricans and their migratory journeys across the Atlantic, within the Caribbean, and around Puerto Rico. The second objective is to examine how African descendant Puerto Ricans understand biological and cultural dimensions of their past. The third objective is to facilitate local artistic interpretations of genetic ancestry and community history.

The project began in Summer of 2017 and is ongoing. Preliminary results with a limited sample size of 31 African descendant Puerto Ricans reveal genetic ancestry patterns that are comparable yet in some ways distinct from previous studies of the Puerto Rican general populace. Notably, among African descendant Puerto Ricans, there are substantially higher amounts of African ancestry and Indigenous Caribbean genetic ancestry has been observed within the paternal lineages of community members. Hours of interviews with participants before and after taking ancestry tests, illustrate that African descendant Puerto Ricans engage their genetic ancestry in ways that acknowledge the complexity of ancestry- reporting and affirming the validity of their cultural history. Beyond leading to a fuller understanding of experiences and diversity of African descendants in the Americas, with this project we intend to diversify anthropological genetic research, document contemporary ideas about community, race, and identity, and give voice to otherwise marginalized communities.

We are no longer recruiting for this project. If you are a participant in this project and want to know more about your ancestry results, please feel to explore more about genetic ancestry results here as well as contact Dr. Jada Benn Torres at j.benntor@vanderbilt.edu.

Thanks to the trust and goodwill of our study participants, we have published the first paper on this project. The paper, titled, “Exploring the legacy of African and Indigenous Caribbean admixture in Puerto Rico” is available for free from the American Journal of Biological Anthropology. Check it out in English here and the Spanish translation here .

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