Last Saturday was Family Day at the study abroad center, CIMAS, where we all came with our host families & played traditional Ecuadorian games & had a nice lunch.
I really appreciate how my study abroad program has all these built-in activities and field trips in which we get to go to different regions in Ecuador to learn about different communities and their take on “development”. This week, we got to go to an indigenous community in San Clemente, Imbabura where we got to stay with host families. We were received with a warm welcome and a Pamba Mesa- an outdoor community meal with our indigenous host families who all prepared various delicious dishes all with natural, healthy ingredients that they each grow.
I am amazed at the deep connection with la Pacha Mama (mother Earth) that they all have. Our indigenous tour guide showed us all the medicinal plants: divided into “hot” and “cool” categories, He said that he has never had to go to a hospital or take western medicine. The food, Earth, and traditional practices are his medicine.
At night, we were dressed in traditional San Clemente indigenous wear for a dance in which they played their beautiful andean songs, and I felt uncomfortable at first to say the least. Despite the fact that I probably have indigenous roots my self, I did not want to appropriate their culture by being an outsider & wearing their clothes. I asked if this was disrespectful, but the ladies said no and that they wanted us to wear the clothes. Nonetheless, I felt a bit of discomfort as we danced, wearing their beautifully embroidered clothing.
We also headed out to Valle del Chota––home to a large Afro-Ecuadorian population. The temperature rose to a warm, tropical climate. Enslaved Africans were brought to replace indigenous peoples in the harvest of coca and cotton.
Arriving to Chota, I looked outside my window to see various types of crops and green grasses all covering the Earth. At the same time, I thought of how we were walking on what used to be land by slaves.
It did not take me long to realize that slavery is alive & well.
The owners of these fields and haciendas are all foreigners and there is no possibility for a Choteña/o to ever own his/her own land. They work the fields and land, but have no political representation and minimal labor rights.
Additionally, these families send their kids to schools but despite the fact that the community is black, the teachers are all white mestizo. How can one be taught their whole life by people who have minimal to no cultural understanding? How can a child ever envision being a teacher if none of the teachers she ever had ever looked like her? Strangely, this reminds me of my own experience growing up with no Latino teachers.
This is not to say that all is gray. We got to see a traditional Afro-latino dance called “la Bomba” consisting of a movement of hips all while maintaining a bottle or fruit basket on the head. This comes from when the Afro-latinas would go down to the river to wash along with their kids who were a handful so they had to balance their dishes on their head in order to have their hands free.
Nowadays, Bomba is performed at special celebrations, but also danced at neighborhood & family parties. There are even student dance groups at the local university.
All of these efforts to “decolonize” the community have inspired me so much. When a community comes together to resist the negative oppressive systems of the Western world, there is sooo much more power and beauty that an international NGO could ever offer.
It’s been super interesting to look at the differences in the Afro-Latino and indigenous communities. While many groups of indigenous communities have their own set of land, Afro-Ecuadorian people whose ancestry has been in Ecuador since the start of slavery, are even lower on the socio-political pyramid and have little to no land.
Quotes of the Week:
(We have been talking a lot about the power of “decolonization” in communities that have been traditionally taught of their place in society as the “slaves”, the “poor”, and the “useless” and instead re-learning the leadership, rebellions, and revolutions in their communities)
“Desaprender lo ajeno, para aprender lo propio”- “Unlearn the foreign way, to learn our own way”
Eating street food & not getting sick, getting the hang of the bus system/taking lots of taxis, surviving without spicy Mexican salsa
Walking through Parque La Carolina after school and then seeing a cute, handsome guy & his even cuter & more handsome dog approach, only for me to get a gross nose bleed & realizing I had no tissues so having to use store receipts and wait next to this handsome pair of beings until my friends brought me actual napkins.
New Vocab: Ecuadorian vs. Mex Spanish
Frutilla- Fresa- Strawberry
Esfera- Pluma- Pen