When Ana María Tekina-eirú Maynard filled out her census form last year, she checked the box for Latino, and for the first time, she also checked the box for Native American.
It had taken her more than 30 years–plus research and genetic testing–to discover her ties to the indigenous Taínos of Puerto Rico, to claim her identity and re-learn what she thought she knew of her history.
She’s not the only one. Since 2000, the number of Hispanics who identified themselves as Native American grew from 407,073 to 685,150, according to the 2010 census.
Some attribute the increase to immigration from parts of North and South America where there are large indigenous populations. In some cases, it’s because of recently discovered ties to native cultures.
Four years ago, Maynard heard about the work of Dr. Juan Carlos Martinez Cruzado, a geneticist from the University of Puerto Rico. In an island-wide genetic study, he found that at least 61.1% of those surveyed had mitochondrial DNA of indigenous origin.
Mario Garza created the Indigenous Cultures Institute in 2005, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the research and preservation of indigenous cultures. It tries to educate people with indigenous roots who label themselves “Hispanic,” Garza said.
“The Spaniards tried to destroy our civilization and history, outlawed our ceremonies, yet we are still here,” Garza said. “With a bigger group of Native Americans, we have a better chance of getting federal recognition and grants.”
[Editor’s Note: View the study of Puerto Rico’s population here.]