A young Ecuadorian’s long journey through poverty and then comes the heartbreak

Jan 22, 2023 | 2 comments

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story about Wilson Suquitana – Paute’s favorite facilitator.

Part one: Loss

It was a very special December morning for the Suquitana family of  Paute, Azuay Province  —   a perfect day for welcoming Wilson, the third of what would become six children born into an embedded merchant family suffering under the strain of the faltering economy ravaging Ecuador in 1980.

Many rural communities shared two stifling traits in the 1980s: extreme isolation and unrelenting poverty. There were few cars and fewer telephones, perhaps less than a small handful of either. Horses were routinely preferred for overland jaunts; the most frequented motorized road trip was a nearly all-day journey traversing labyrinthine ridgelines and crossing serpentine rivers in ancient blue buses with sprung seats, torn curtains, and cancer-billowing mufflers perched atop eroding tires clutching desperately to the twisted rope that was the road to Cuenca.

There was another trait many villages in the canton had in common;  a dwindling population of able-bodied men and whole villages composed of single women and children. From 1980 to the early 2000s, over 13% of Ecuador’s population migrated abroad for work  —   mostly men and mostly from Azuay, Cañar and Loja Provinces. Wilson’s father was among the pilgrims who went north, leaving behind a shredded family with bruised and battered hearts.

Wilson was six years old.

Of course, the lonely monster of poverty did not neglect the children. Wilson and two of his sisters were taken in by a generous aunt to lessen his mother’s unbearable burden. Of course, it was expected that, regardless of age, they chop their own wood and make their own way. The lesson was clear, “Life is hard. Nothing comes easily.”

Wilson began his working life at the age of seven. His first job was carrying bags of groceries from the Mercado to people’s homes. It took him two years, but he saved the $5 required to buy a cart which allowed him to increase the number of deliveries and monetary contributions for his mom and siblings. By age 10, Wilson had a job with other young boys working after school in a dollhouse shop making miniature furniture.

By 12, he was a stiffed-necked laborer carrying cement bags and sand for construction workers. At age 15, although he was still legally underage, he began working full-time in the rose fields; he was tall, looked 18, and could carry heavy loads for long periods. He bent over rose bushes for seven years, saving what money he could and dreaming of the day when his family would again be whole.

Finally, at the age of 22, Wilson Suquitana headed north to retrieve his father. He cautiously made his way to northern Guatemala, where he hired a coyote who pressed him into a truck crammed with migrants like matchsticks in a Diamond box. When they reached the U.S. border, he was tossed aside like damp kindling and forced to trek through a featureless furnace for five days before being rescued by an awaiting uncle who drove him north and far east.

Although there were times when Wilson thought his ordeal would never end, it did. What awaited him changed his life forever.

It was 20 degrees and snowing on an early December evening in failing winter light when Wilson, shell-shocked or startled but surely chilled to the bone, knocked on his father’s door in a downtrodden neighborhood of lower Brooklyn. His dad did not answer. Instead, he was ushered by a small and nervous woman into a decrepit cold-gray flat faintly soured by old grease and a stranger he once knew as Papa.

Senior Luis Suquitana was sitting in his favorite chair when Wilson arrived. He did not get up. His new wife retreated into the kitchen. The room was deathly quiet.

What more is there to say?

All that Wilson had trusted in and worked so hard for shattered like a broken dream. It lies there still: a distant nightmare that washed up on a riverbank in the small village of Paute.

Part Two next week: Homecoming