EDD SAIDPlease allow me to introduce myself …

Apr 9, 2011

[Editor’s Note: On April 6, Cuenca High Life published an article by Lee Dubs, proprietor of the English-language Carolina Bookstore and long-time Cuencano, in which he classified expats to Ecuador from a long-timer’s perspective; Lee and his wife Carol have lived here for eight years, though Lee’s roots to the area extend back to a stint in the Peace Corps in the ‘60s. The following counterpoint article is written by Edd Staton, author of the eddsaid blog, who provides the perspective of the recently arrived; the Statons have lived in Cuenca for nearly a year.]

Cuenca High Life recently published an article purporting to offer a “sociological examination of Cuenca’s growing expat community,” in which the writer categorized the foreign population “for the sake of convenience” based solely on his personal observations and opinions.

I am part of the recent influx of expats the writer has been “categorizing” in print for the past year (see “The Gringo Invasion,” April/May issue of Azuay Are We Here?). The word “invasion” is also used in this recent article and speaks volumes about perspective and viewpoint, since it has no possible positive connotation and conjures up images of barbarians, Normandy, and body snatchers.

In the Cuenca High Life article, we expatriates are grouped into two categories, retired and not retired. Fair enough. However, when assigning subdivisions, things get a bit testy.

The first retiree subgroup lives here simply because they like the Latin American lifestyle and culture. There is no explanation about why they zeroed in on Ecuador, and specifically Cuenca, and it appears that non-retirees can’t belong to this subgroup, since no similar subgroup exists for them in the writer’s typology. By the way, these culture-based retirees “rarely show up at gringo functions.” True.

The largest numbers of North Americans are the ones who have invaded Cuenca in the last couple of years. They recognized the positive aspects of living here—affordability, weather, food, medical care, peaceful culture. They did their homework, have assimilated into the culture, and “show limited interest in attending large gringo events.” Really?

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Then there’s that pesky group that moved here because they had to, not because they wanted to. They haven’t traveled much or at all; they got bamboozled by hucksters selling a dream and overpriced real estate. They’re bitter, insecure outsiders who constantly complain about most things Ecuadorian and are exploited by “ego-driven” folks who create social events and write blogs. And of course they “look forward to attending any gringo event they can find.”

I maintain that hardly any foreigner either currently living here, or contemplating doing so, left or will leave North America because Cuenca, Ecuador, is the retirement hotspot that we or they have dreamed about for a lifetime. I freely admit that two years ago, the extent of my knowledge about Ecuador was that it was in South America, and I’d never even heard of Cuenca. I strongly suspect that many invading expats would still be trucking along in Estados Unidos if the economy hadn’t taken a dump, leaving our retirement plans in shambles.

Everyone who has moved here should be given credit for having the foresight to recognize an unacceptable future and the courage to take bold action. So many of our retirement-aged brethren back home blindly continue to believe that “the sun will come up tomorrow.” I fear they’re in for a sad surprise one day. Whatever constitutes “proper” due diligence is up to the individual; whether someone has come to Cuenca multiple times or is relying solely on research, his or her personal decision to feel comfortable pulling this trigger is beyond reproach.

It also appears to me that the writer, being firmly planted in the Cuenca-veteran subgroup, judges the degree of attendance at “gringo events/functions/gatherings” perhaps a bit simplistically: Never go–good; sometimes go–OK; always go–not good.

Back in the day when there were hardly any foreigners in town, perhaps the few living here all felt like Tarzan or Robinson Crusoe and didn’t even know one another. Now the numbers are larger, so the dynamics are different. Since my wife and I semi-regularly attend these events (one of which I created), I would like to report from first-hand experience, not from “talking with and listening to a lot of newcomers,” that gringo events serve three important functions: 1) “Look-see’ers” get a chance to mingle with gringo citizens, make contacts, and receive valuable input; 2) newbies can begin to form some relationships in their new hometown; and 3) already-established foreigners meet casually with friends in a neutral setting outside of the home. What could possibly be “exploitive” about any of this?

Then there’s a second group of expats in Cuenca that hasn’t yet retired. They’re grouped into 1) parasites out to prey on the retirees; 2) legitimate business people like the author; 3) the cheaper-lifestyle crowd; 4) do-gooders; 5) weirdos here for nefarious reasons like the Witness Protection Program; or 6) “being on a mission to feel important, perhaps for the first time in their lives.” Perhaps part of the visa process should entail passing a politically correct motivation test.

I can’t help taking away an impression of geezers sitting on the porch or in front of the general store longing for the good old days before all those young whippersnappers got too big for their britches. Cavemen probably gathered around the fire complaining about those crazy kids wasting time with that newfangled contraption they called “the wheel.”

But here’s the truth. First, the majority of foreign immigrants to Cuenca and Ecuador and all around this shrinking world are decent people happy to be living where they do and will represent various homelands well in their new settings, no matter when they arrive.

Second, the gringo population in Cuenca has increased, is increasing, and will continue to increase. If the extent of this “invasion” becomes intolerable to some, they’ll have to blaze a trail to a new destination. Change is inevitable. Each of us has the choice to adapt or, like the dinosaurs, become extinct. Or at the very least be reduced to irrelevance.

 

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