If you did your DNA test, have family from Latin America, and were expecting to find Hispanic in your ethnicity results – you have come to the right place. There is a reason why you didn’t see Hispanic DNA listed in your Ancestry results. Lots of people are surprised or confused by their ethnicity estimates – I know that I was !
In this article, you will learn:
- Why there is no Hispanic in your DNA results.
- An overview of major ethnicities present in Latin America.
Let’s get started!
Is there such a thing as Hispanic DNA?
What does the term Hispanic even mean? According to the US government, “Hispanic” is not a race, but instead is an ethnicity. Socially, many people either self-describe or are described as Hispanic, and it typically means that they are either from or are descended from inhabitants of a Latin American country*. If it’s really an ethnicity, then why doesn’t it show up on DNA ethnicity results?
Genetically speaking, there is no real Hispanic ethnicity. People who live in North and South America are extremely diverse. From a genetic background perspective, people in Argentina, Mexico, and Costa Rica can have very little in common. It is more useful to realize that people who live in those countries have immigrant ancestors from all over the world, just like people in the United States.
*Many people prefer the term “Latino”, or identify as Mexican-American, or Colombian-American, etc. It is not my intention here to offend or generalize.
Tracing Hispanic/Latino Ancestry
If you are interested in trying to find out more about your Hispanic/Latino ancestry, the first step is to start a family tree and add as many people to it as you can. It helps to talk with your older relatives to find out what they know. I prefer using Ancestry for building family trees for me and my friends and family. You can do it without a subscription, but it is a lot easier to add people and get access to records when you do have a subscription. (Plus, you get the most out of your Ancestry DNA results if you have a subscription). It can get pricey, but if you use this link you can get two weeks free trial to get ahead and get started: (it’s an affiliate link and I do get a very small commission at no extra cost to you whatsoever if you make a purchase) Start Your Free Family Tree! 14 Day Free Trial
But What About the Native American in My DNA Results?
If you were expecting to find Hispanic heritage in your DNA, then there is a big possibility that you did find at least a trace of Native American ethnicity. For example, I administer DNA kits for two people who have Mexican ancestry. One has 90% Native American and the other has 27%. According to statistics, the average Mexican will have somewhere between 20-25% Native American ancestry.
The average Native American DNA found in residents of other Latin American countries will vary, since the histories of these countries vary very dramatically. Some countries had more European immigration than others, and in some countries, there was more admixture (basically, mixing) of immigrant and indigenous communities.
How Communities from North and South America Are Genetically Linked
While scientists don’t understand exactly how and when North and South American was populated, they do believe that it was a small population of only around 1,000 people who came from Asia many thousands of years ago. The general consensus is that the indigenous communities of North and South America are all descended from this original group of settlers. They migrated south, populating the land and forming diverse, new communities.
So while there is a big difference, obviously, from a cultural standpoint, between Native Americans in New Jersey and those in Bolivia, they share a genetic link that is much stronger than most people who are extremely distantly related would typically share.
How strong a link? The person whose kit I manage who has 90% Native American ancestry is a great example. Have you ever heard about the 12,000 year old Native American boy whose body was found in Montana? It’s a very famous discover and it helped scientists understand a lot about migration and the way that people might have lived back then.
There is a very neat website where you can compare your DNA to ancient samples, like the Clovis one. The person whose kit I manage (the test taker), shares enough DNA with this 12,000 year old sample that the system estimates that they are related to each other at a 4th-6th cousin level:
Of course this doesn’t mean that my husband is an actual 5th cousin to someone who lived 12,000 years ago. I show you this example to help you understand how people who live so far away from each other can be genetically linked – and more relevant to our discussion, how they can define a “Native American” ethnicity across such as big geographic region.
Other Major Ethnicities in Latin America: DNA Perspective
Most people learned in school that the Spanish colonized most of South America, Mexico, and even part of what is now the United States. This is common knowledge, and so most people are not surprised when they are Latino and find some Spanish (Iberian Peninsula) DNA in their results. What most people aren’t as familiar with is the rich history of all of Latin America’s individual countries and how people from dozens of other countries ended up living there.
There are 20 countries in Latin America – too many to cover in this post. I chose two different countries just to illustrate how different and diverse Latin American countries are, and what ethnicities you might find in your DNA results based on your ancestry in these countries.
In Mexico, you will find people with ethnic backgrounds from:
- African countries (known as Afromestizos in Mexico, generally resulting from Spain’s active slave trade during colonial days)
- European countries (especially Ireland, Russia, Poland, and other eastern European countries)
- Arab countries (like Palestine, Syria, or Lebanon)
- Asian countries (such as the Philippines and China, resulting from both slavery and immigration)
A country like Argentina, which has had an exceptionally large number of immigrants over the past few centuries, will show an even more diverse population. In general, people in Argentina have a lower percentage of Native American DNA (less than 20%, on average). You will find people descended from populations from:
- Asian countries, like Japan, South Korea, and Laos
- More than a dozen European countries
- Arab countries, such as Lebanon and Syria
Check out this map of Argentina showing people in the 1914 census who self-reported that they were born in Europe:
In other words, people who live in Latin America are not simply a combination of Native American and Spanish DNA.
I hope that you have learned a little about what to expect in your DNA results if you have ancestry from any Latin American country. Basically, you never know what to expect! Everyone that I know who has parents from a Latin American country was very surprised about their ethnicity results.
What surprised you about yours? Let’s discuss it in the comments!