A friend of mine recently failed the government-issued test to become a citizen of Ecuador. Tim Broward (not his real name), 61, is an eleven-year resident of Ecuador who holds a Ph.D. in Educational Development from a prestigious university in the U.S. He scored 58% on a test requiring a minimum accuracy of 90%. Broward is disappointed but not alone. Not a single candidate has successfully passed the new immigration test for citizenship administered in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs district office in Azogues since the government of Guillermo Lasso took office and installed new administrative staff in Quito. To be clear, passing the test is required for all citizenship applicants under the age of 65. Those who are older are exempt. The chief administrator in the Azogues immigration office admits the new test is almost impossible to pass. In fact, he took the test himself and failed twice. “It is improbable that anyone other than the very lucky will ever pass this test. You are wasting your time — and mine — by bothering to take the test at all. You will fail just like all the rest,” the chief administrator announced. He then turned to Tim’s facilitator and offered his sage opinion: “If he wants to become a citizen of Ecuador, tell him to marry an Ecuadorian.” Tim was less than amused. To better understand how challenging the new immigration test is, I pulled together the suggested information material indicated by the Immigration Ministry; it is composed of a 50-page dissertation on the history of Ecuador, a chapter from a vintage 5th-grade textbook on the joys of living in Ecuador, and an assortment of over 30 web links focusing on everything from a synopsis of the shocking revelations uncovered in Ecuador’s most famous telenovelas, an exploration of the technological advances related to the large-scale agricultural production of bananas in the early 20th century, and tales of how the steamboat that anchors the national seal ever came to pass. It is all quite interesting, but it is also such a frenetic food fight of facts and figures that it is impossible to categorize what is vital and what is not. trivia. Let us begin by noting a few questions included in Tim’s test — the one that he failed. [Broward’s version of the government’s test for aspiring citizens.]
- how many stars were sewn into the flag of the Marcista Revolution of 1845?
- who wrote the most popular musical of 1939?
- name the tribes living in Esmeraldas before the Spanish invasion.
- detail the specifics of the proposals debated during peace negotiations of the 1944-1945 treaty with Peru.
- who was the president of Ecuador in 1887?
- What percentage of the world’s bird population is indigenous to Ecuador?
- Who won the Sor Juana Award for poetry?
- Who founded the Patio de Comedias?
Now let us turn our attention to questions not included in the test.
- the role and responsibilities of the President, the Assembly, and the Judiciary.
- a flowchart of regional government departments, agencies, and services.
- any mention of borders, rivers or population centers.
- details of the geographic diversity of Ecuador.
- the original composition and amendments enshrined in the constitution.
- Voting laws and civil rights legislation
- Ecuador’s position in the global economy
- Simon Bolivar and the march to independence
The blunderbuss of questions aimed at potential citizens would make even Kenneth Jennings twitchy. Broward patiently explained his frustration this way, “The test is a randomly selected series of 30 questions pulled from a stack of 300. Although you have only three tries to succeed, each test may highlight a completely different sequence of questions. In other words, there is no advantage in learning from your prior mistakes.” He lamented, “Why bone up on history and government when your second (or last) test may be about newly discovered flora and fauna in Amazonia, famous poets of the nineteenth century, or highway infrastructure development issues in 2014? How can you possibly prepare?” Broward was also taken aback by the degree of Spanish proficiency required to thoroughly comprehend the nuance of the questions. Although he mastered conversational Spanish years ago, the test is written in a formal, academic style, not used in everyday speech. After two years of preparation and over $1,200 in document fees and transportation costs associated with his quest, he is done. When I asked him if he would continue pursuing his ambition to become a citizen of Ecuador, he said no. “It appears that the knowledge required to be a productive citizen of Ecuador is trumped by esoteric trivialities designed to tip the scales toward failure and humiliation. If my allegiance is unwanted, so be it. I will content myself by puttering in my garden, being of service to others when I can, and casting my vote elsewhere.”