Eugenics in South America

Eugenics in South America

Eugenical News
Volume 7, Number 3 (March, 1922)
pages 17-42

Reginald G. Harris

Ever since the rediscovery of Mendel’s laws of inheritance plant and animal breeders have been occupied with conducting experiments on a large number of widely varying types of organisms. These experiments hare brought to light the method of inheritance of may unit characters (single traits). In some cases even the location of the factors or genes which influence the development of the unit characters has been graphically pictured. Among many animals, fowl, rats, mice, guineapigs. rabbits, vinegar-flies, etc., as well as among many plants, experiments have been conducted to ascertain the laws governing heredity.

There are many human traits which are governed in their inheritance by laws similar to those which have been discovered among the lower forms of life. Unfortunately these laws may be applied only in their most general sense. The fact that a unit character, vermillion eye in Drosophila, for example, is a “recessive allelomorph” of the wild type red eye, does not prove that blue eye in human individuals is the allelomorph of, or is recessive to, brown eye; it merely shows that unit characters may be allelomorphic and that one is dominant over the other. If one wished to know the relationship of various eye colors to each other in other animals than human beings he would carry on breeding experiments, and from observations  on the resulting offspring conclude in what way the several unit characters acted upon each other.

But such an experimental procedure in the case of man is obviously impracticable. The eugenicist welcomes in the absence of controlled laboratory experiments natural, more or less controlled, crosses of human races. Such crosses have no doubt been infrequent, though two notable examples are well known. One is the case of the colony of Pitcairn Island, and later of Norfolk Island. In these islands at the present time there are nearly one thousand individuals all descendants of a cross between English men and Tahiti women. The original crosses, in this case, occurred about a century ago. The second experiment occurred when a few Boers and Hottentots intermarried and continued to intermarry for some time without crossing with neighboring tribes. These two examples of human racial crossing are of unique interest to the eugenist because they afford him an opportunity of observing the resultant hybrid offspring uncontaminated with other genetic factors than those originally given by the two parent strains.

Study of eugenics in South America offers the observer a no less fascinating, though no doubt more complex situation, than those presented in the foregoing cases. The observations which I shall present at this time are the result of facts which came to my notice, and impressions which I received during a recent excursion through South America with the Cornell University Entomological Expedition of 1919-1920. For this discussion, then, the term South America will designate those countries which were visited, namely, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru. In such a large number of nations, and even within the nations themselves, wide differences of race and environment may exist, hence the great danger of hasty generalization, and the need for extreme care in making and interpreting statements concerning the inhabitants of South America either present or past.

The problem of ascertaining the result of the interbreeding of the widely divergent human races in South America can not be solved by a superficial glance at the data which may be drawn from a study of European, Aboriginal, and Negro parent stock, and the resulting offspring. Given the parents and the hybrids, the effect of crossing is not at once apparent, for the parent stocks are widely variable, and the environment furnishes modifying influences the scope of which is only a subject of conjecture. But to say that there is a new people because an unusual crossing of races exists is wholly insufficient. The parent stock and resultant offspring must be carefully studied.

If sterility and the chemistry of blood are true indicators of the limits of a species, man includes but one species. Thus far crosses between even the widest morphologically divergent types have failed to produce sterility in the offspring. In this respect human beings are similar to horses, cattle, dogs, fowl, etc., where there exists a striking variety of form and color within the same species. It is generally believed that crosses between human races of extremely different physical and mental traits produce offspring which are intermediate between the two parent types, that is to say, the hybrids show that friending Inheritance has occurred. An indiscriminate crossing of human races is considered unwise, not only on account of possible great psychic differences, but more especially because of the conflict of social inheritance which often results. Every biologist is aware of the snail-like progress of organic evolution. Morphological and other physical changes in existing organisms ore infrequent. To the sociologist the importance of social inheritance as a method of rapidly bettering the human race is apparent. The eugenicist, however, is equally interested in thebiological inheritance of the individual, for he sees, in encouraging crossing and fecundity among the higher types of human beings, and discouraging mating and the production of numerous offspring in the lower groups, an opportunity for permanent racial advancement. It is natural, then, that the eugenicist should turn with keen interest to South America, where racial crossing has been taking place, practically unchecked, for four centuries.

There are in South America three widely different human races existing side by side: (1) the native peoples, all members of the Indian race: (2) the conquerors nnd early colonists of the continent, men of the white race from the Iberian peninsula; (3) representatives of the Negro race who were imported by the conquerors and colonists, especially in Brazil, as slaves. That these several races should continue to mingle with each other in none other than social and business relationships would form a sufficient basis for a study of unusual interest to the sociologist. But their juxtaposition has not been limited to social and commercial dealings. There has been an interchange of the blood of these several races.

The ease and rapidity with which interbreeding has occurred is almost unparalleled. At the outset there existed a relationship between the aborigines and the conquerors quite different from that which occurred in the northern continent. Indians and whites (Latins from Southern Europe) crossed freely during the early periods of conquest and colonization, while later Negroes, Teutonic Europeans, and Asiatics were added to the “melting pot.”…

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