We just returned from a memorial service for our friend Michel Blanchard. It was sad, touching and at times funny. His sister and her boyfriend came down from Canada to handle his remains, but also to meet some of his many friends.
What surprised both Codie and I as we looked around the room was the large number of people we knew AND also the large number we did not. Some were people who we have seen before but never met and others were people we have never laid eyes on. It just went to show how big Michel’s circle of friends were.
As we walked back to the car after the memorial, Codie said, “There really is a community here for expats.” Now, some of you may say, “duh, no shit.” But she wasn’t saying that in the sense of the general word “community,” but rather in the sense of family. Meaning that we do have many bonds to each other that are real. Not just of convenience or by de facto, but instead because we find people here that we relate to and treat them as our extended families.
That’s important to understand. Because recently I’ve seen some people write nasty comments online about the “gringo community,” as if it is a completely bad thing. Look, I get it. You folks who take that attitude probably have a lot of Cuencano friends and that is good. But just because many of the expats come here and struggle to learn the language does not mean that they should be disrespected because they hang out with other English speakers.
Yes, we should all try to learn as much Spanish as we can. And we should all try to assimilate to our new country. But there is no reason that we should block ourselves off from people who come from our home countries, states or towns just because we live in a foreign country.
Because for many people, meeting other expats is how they get involved deeper into the Ecuadorian community. They meet Cuencanos through their expat friends, they join non-profit groups supporting Ecuadorians, they share dinners with them and they go to the symphony together.
Our friend Michel was a perfect example of how one can cross both cultures and have a sense of community with — and in — both. Michel spent a year here focusing solely on learning Spanish. And he did it quite well. His Spanish became flawless. Because of that there were many Ecuadorians at his memorial tonight. And there were also a lot of expats. He never felt that he had to give up one group to have friends in the other.
The “community” that Codie sensed at the memorial service was really “family.” Not biological, but rather family by choice. That’s what this thing called life is about. And bonding with others, whether of your culture or not, is never something that should be dismissed. Michel knew that. And all of us in his community were better for it.