Jessica Cerdena

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Yale U.

Grant number

Gr. 9612

Approve Date

April 13, 2018

Project Title

Cerdena, Jessica, Yale U., New Haven, CT - To aid research on 'Biosocial Embodiment of Intergenerational Trauma in Latin American Migrant Women and their Infants,' supervised by Dr. Richard Bribiescas

Preliminary abstract: How might epigenetic inheritance contribute to the intergenerational embodiment of trauma among Latin American migrants who have fled to New Haven, Connecticut? My bio-ethnographic project answers this question by examining the embodiment of trauma in Latin American migrants and assessing for epigenetic underpinnings of trauma symptoms seen in children born to migrants who survived trauma. 75 percent of Latin American migrants carry histories of trauma–including gang violence, kidnapping, and sexual abuse–and mental health scholars have described a pattern of trauma symptoms shared among migrant trauma survivors and their children. My research interrogates the role of DNA methylation, a particular epigenetic modification, in mediating the transmission of trauma between Latin American migrant mothers and their infants. In particular, I examine methylation at five stress-related genes–NR3C1, FKBP5, SLC6A4, BDNF, and MAOA–in addition to epigenome-wide methylation changes. To further understand the embodiment of trauma, I employ ethnographic interviews on migration, trauma, and structural vulnerability, as well as measures of trauma exposure and trauma symptoms. Finally, I measure cortisol reactivity in infants to determine the relationship between maternal trauma, methylation, and stress sensitivity, which relates to adult mental health. My project centers in New Haven, a sanctuary city for undocumented migrants, in which the population of Latin Americans has doubled over the past 20 years. My research contributes to both biological and medical anthropology, using the reactive epigenome to consider the intergenerational dimensions of phenotypic plasticity and to examine local biologies at a molecular level.