Tarahumara Indians in a community in Mexico. EFE/H. Montaño/INAH
Scientists have found substantial genomic differences among Mexico's indigenous populations that persist despite the widely popular concept of a homogeneous mestizo "la raza," experts say.
"There is a high degree of differentiation among indigenous populations, and more so between those who are more isolated," Victor Acuna Alonzo, an anthropologist at the National School of Anthropology and History, told Efe.
An international team of researchers analyzed genome samples taken from more than 1,000 individuals representing 20 indigenous and 11 mestizo, or mixed, population groups, the journal Science reported recently.
The greatest differences were found between the Seri ethnic group living in northwest Mexico and the Lacandones in the southeast, with genomic differences wider than those existing between European and Chinese people.
The Mexican Constitution states that the country's population is multicultural and rooted in its indigenous populations, but the diversity has tended to be hidden or shunned in mainstream discourse that favors the concept of a monolithic culture.
The National Council for the Prevention of Discrimination says one of the main reasons for this is the "mestizo myth" based on the emergence of a national identity that integrates all the distinct components of Mexico's population.
The 2012 report by the council said it was Mexican philosopher Jose Vasconcelos (1882-1959) "who best defined this narrative."
Vasconcelos's 1925 book, "The Cosmic Race," posited the idea that the "assimilation of the diverse origins coinciding in Mexico and in Latin America place the mestizo as the principal unit."
"Neither the 'cosmic race' nor the government's pro-mestizo propaganda managed to erase the multicultural and multiethnic nature of the country," the report said. "Vasconcelos was wrong: today in Mexico there are many races - not one - and all express themselves through a vast pleiad of spirits, just like that, in plural not in singular."
Paradoxically, both the argument for homogenization through miscegenation and its opposite, the vindication of diversity, have been used to refute racist positions.
The first argues that it is impossible to define clear boundaries among the races since they are so intertwined, while the second highlights each group's contributions to universal human culture.