Friday, November 23, 2012

That's just the way it is

Two events happened today that made me understand (not necessarily appreciate) Ecuadorian culture more deeply. The first was in my History class when we started talking about racism. Our teacher asked the American students if we thought there was more racism here in Ecuador or back in the US. A girl said that even though there might be more in the US, it is much more obvious and open in Ecuador. I brought up the example of using words like negro/negrito, chino, or even longo. These three terms describe Afro-Ecuadorians, Asian-looking people, and Indigenous people. I said that using these words perpetuates the racism by making it "acceptable" to classify people by their race or what they look like. Before I finished my statement, some Ecuadorian students in the class protested loudly and said that it is in no way racist to use these terms because it is acceptable and not offensive. May I point out that these are white Ecuadorian students. The teacher then chimed in and said that if you are of a certain race, for example, Indigenous, it is acceptable to profile that person in Ecuador. I responded that even though it is acceptable and normal does not mean it is not racist and does not mean in any way that it is "correct." Needless to say, the teacher was offended by my comment and briskly ended class and was the first out the door.

The second event was extremely personal. I met a guy back in August who I am still very good friends with. We see each other two or three times a week but we don't usually go to each other's houses. Let me describe what he looks like: he is a tall, darker-skinned Ecuadorian with curly black hair and a goatee. I invited him to have Thanksgiving with my friends and I and so before dinner, he met me at my apartment. We went upstairs to get my stuff and we left for my friend's house. The next day, the woman I live with, Maritoni, said she needed to talk to me. She explained that one of the neighbor women upstairs had seen my friend and I come into the apartment and she didn't like how my friend looked. On that day he was wearing jeans and a nice jacket- just like any other Ecuadorian guy would wear. Maritoni had met my friend and defended him against the woman, but she couldn't get over how he had curly hair and a goatee. Now, I have brought a dozen friends home to my apartment. I'm sure this same woman has seen them all since she must sit at her window staring at the entrance to the building. Never once has she complained until I brought a lower-middle class Ecuadorian guy to my house. He is not allowed in the building because she judged him immediately on how he looked and didn't trust him with a small white girl like me. I am incredibly offended since it is so personal and I have never once met this woman. Maritoni explained that "that's how people are here" and how women here are extremely judgmental and racist.

Both these events happened on the same day and I have been angry at the woman upstairs and Ecuadorian culture in general for being so incredibly judgmental. Even going to my university, I feel like I have to dress very nicely and stylishly, otherwise the girls will give me dirty looks. I never gave a second thought about bringing my friend to my house. MY HOUSE. It is extremely humiliating when you have to explain to your friend why he can't come to your house anymore. Not because he was loud, not because he broke anything, not for any of the normal reasons to be banned from a building. He cannot come to my house simply because of the way he looks.

My understanding of Ecuadorian culture grew a lot today. And unfortunately it was not for the better.


  1. What will happen if you continue to invite this friend over? I do hope you see him away from your home.
    Those labeling terms by appearance are pervasive--I noticed them in Spain, Mexico, Guate, Costa Rica, Peru, El Salvador. I got used to them.
    I hope you feel more comfortable at your University and that you encounter cool people who are not so judgemental.

    1. I am not sure what will happen if I keep having him over. I am dating him and we see each other a few times a week but usually don't go to my house. I can avoid bringing him home or I can confront the woman. I am just not sure what will happen and I do not want to be kicked out of my apartment building. It's really too bad this is happening over something as stupid as his beard.