I wrote recently about my maternal, Native American ancestry, which shows a DNA connection to Bernadina Vasquez, who came to New Mexico in the early 1600s with her Spanish husband. I was told that Bernadina Vasquez likely descended from the indigenous population somewhere in Meso-America in the 1500s.
Recent DNA studies suggest that she descended from the Chichimeca nation, a large coalition of tribes just north of Mexico City, according to Angel Cervantes, the administrator of the New Mexico DNA Project.
The Chichimeca were nomadic hunter-gatherer people, considered by their adversaries – first the Aztecs and other indigenous tribes, and later the Spanish – to be barbarians. The Nahuatl name for the Chichimeca literally meant barbarians. Apparently some, but not all of the tribes practiced cannibalism, which may have led to the negative image. But they were also despised for many other reasons, and they fought for four decades in what became the Chichimeca War against the Spanish and their indigenous allies.
There were many different tribes that made up the Chichimeca with different cultures, ethnicities and languages. Cervantes said he doesn’t have enough DNA evidence to determine from which tribe or tribes that Hispanic New Mexico natives, like me, descended.
There are currently 82 people out of more than 1,600 in the New Mexico DNA Project who descend from the Chichimeca, Cervantes said. We descend from the centuries-old indigenous people through our mt-DNA. That means my mom’s heritage from her mother, Lola Gallegos; through her mother, Maria Arellanes; and so on for several generations.
Cervantes said he recently discovered one paternal, Y-DNA match between a New Mexican man to the Chichimeca, through Nicolas Espinoza in the 17th Century.
Unfortunately, I am not able to accurately track my ancestry all the way back to Bernadina Vasquez because of the lack of some church records in the 1700s. But Cervantes said my mtDNA proves that I descend from Bernadina Vasquez.
During a recent lecture on the subject, Cervantes speculated that Vasquez descended from a grandmother who was mestiza, or a mix of cultures that included a Chichimeca ancestor. More research is needed, but it’s interesting to know that my maternal ancestry reaches back to these mysterious indigenous people.
Bernadina Vasquez is believed to have been born in the early 1600s, just a few years after the settlement of New Mexico by the Spanish.
It’s possible, and highly likely, that I descend from other Native American ancestors in more recent generations. I’ll keep digging and see where the records and the DNA takes me.