Mixed up about mestizaje

NOV mestizo genomicsMestizo Genomics: Race Mixture, Nation, and Science in Latin America
Edited by Peter Wade, Carlos López Beltrán, Eduardo Restrepo and Ricardo Ventura Santos
2014, Duke University Press
304 pages, paperback

THIS facinating – and courageous – examination of genomics research in Mexico, Brazil and Colombia raises important and also encouraging questions about identity against a backdrop in which nationalism continues to have tangible force despite weakening sovereignty and globalising discourses. Take the concept of the mestizo – the very basis of official identity throughout mcuh of the region, founded on the principle of a genetic admixture – then expose it to cutting edge genetic research, and what do you get? Challenging, and indeed, potentially subversive notions of “race” that do not necessarily match nation-building narratives yet at the same time confirm them. It is intriguing and not a little bit disconcerting to note how in countries such as Mexico, the home of the “cosmic race” whose thinkers did more than those of any other country to fix the idea of mestizaje in the regional consciousness, there appears to remain a powerful state reflex to shape the parameters of science in this area. Pete Wade’s conclusion is particularly incisive, drawing attention as it does to such new concepts as “genomic nationalism” and “genomic sovereignty”, ideas that reflect both how genomics research is conducted in countries such as Mexico but also the underlying objectives of this kind of endeavour. Yet what is most positive about the work that is being done, as Wade writes, is that in essence it confirms the very multicultural nature of the region. He writes: “… genomic research in the three countries can be seen as a reassertion of Latin American mixture and thus also specificity … Genomic research highlighting mestizaje does not of course dismantle multiculturalism – it reinforces it in certain ways – but it does enunciate a Latin American particularity: the majority of the nation is mixed and thus has always already been multicultural in a characteristically Latin American and mixed fashion.” [pp. 231–32] – GJ