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The colors of Latin America

Daniel BuenoThe high level of miscegenation in the Latin American population is clearly visible to anyone who has visited the continent. A wide base of indigenous peoples (more prevalent in some regions than others), Iberian colonization, African slavery, and repeated waves of immigration from other continents, especially Europe, all came together to create a heterogeneous population. Researchers from several countries, including the group coordinated by geneticist Maria Cátira Bortolini from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), decided to investigate how genetics, physical appearance, and self-perception characterize the populations of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru (PLOS Genetics, September 25, 2014). Ancestry in the continent is highly variable among countries and regions, due to well-known historical factors; and having collected data from 7,000 volunteers, the group saw that it also has a strong effect on appearance and, therefore, self-perception. But some factors, especially skin color, are particularly significant and directly affect how a person defines him or herself – even when apparent ancestry is not confirmed by genetics. “Skin color can make people feel more African than they really are,” explains Bortolini. “A dark-skinned individual will always have some African ancestry, but maybe not as much as it seems.”