By Anne Carr
Bienvenido to Ecuador as a new immigrant!
We are the fortunate immigrants who got to choose our new country, our method of transport, our accommodations, and what belongings to bring with us. We are not an exodus frightened of regime change, dangerous border crossings, or highly restrictive government requirements even if we may be a little confused with differences in Ecuadorean processes and procedures.
When we are fortunate enough to choose a different country in which to live, we make a significant commitment to change. With that change comes frustration, confusion, and even anger at times. But we chose.
This is my second immigration. The first time I left one English speaking country – Great Britain – for another – Canada.
Of course, both Britain and Canada are extremely multicultural, multilingual and multi-religious evidenced in strong rights and obligations oriented constitutions. Both have the Queen as the head of government technically (believe it or not!) and both have the same system of parliamentary government and rule of common law. Britain, due to its location in Western Europe and as part of the E.U. has less restrictive immigration laws than Canada which are focused on the young, healthy and employable from anywhere who can speak English or French as well as their first language. Older applicants (over 50) without a significant job offer as well as retirees, unless they are wealthy, are not particularly welcome in either country unless their families are both capable and prepared to financially support them.
Ecuador, on the other hand, has at present the kind of economy in daily living and housing that amazes us. Apart from the vagaries of patrimonial law and legal processes we can buy beautiful property, perhaps even properties plural. We live well in our brand new apartments or country estate. We have no problem owning local businesses. Frequenting a wide variety of local restaurants is a joy given the inexpensive prices. The climate is perfect. The city of Cuenca in particular, a UNESCO world heritage site, located in the southern Andes beckons us as a kind of nirvana with a relatively low crime rate, crowds of young people who flock to its many universities, and excellent inexpensive English speaking doctors and at least four first-rate hospitals.
Colonizers, especially the British and Americans have great capacity to move to exotic locations and expect that everything, and I mean everything, will be just like back "home.” Even if we try really hard to join a culture rather than fit it to our expectations, we need to be reminded with great regularity about our pervasive sense of entitlement. We were empire builders once. Now we are learning to live after or during the collapse of those empires. It’s not only the tectonic plates that are shifting. Humanity is shifting – millions, perhaps even billions, of people are becoming trans-global nomads. Some seek refuge from slavery and persecution. We still persist in trying to obtain what we believe we are entitled to, getting it wherever we can.
Remember the reasons we asked Ecuador to accept us? It is time to leave those dualistic ‘pro this’ and ‘anti that’ notions about our previous governments behind. We made the choice to quit their turmoil and constant wars that never seem to end. Time to realize the world is complicated and in constant flux.
It is time to accept the many invitations our new country offers us.
First, we are invited to try to learn the language – Spanish, rather than be obstinate in our use of “Spanglish.” Recall the kind of comments we might have made at the Chinese Restaurant where English might be a little ‘Cantonish.’ Remember the Mexican, Turkish or Pakistani maid or gardener who was struggling to learn English in cheap night school courses while working twelve hours a day for us or our friends at minimum or less wage and with no benefits or Social Security. They might have reached their “promised land” on a vastly crowded tiny boat in the big ocean or on a rickety rat infested train with little or no food or water for them and their children even if they were legal immigrants. Remember our easy and comfortable flights on Continental, Lan or American Airlines?
Learning Spanish is a commitment to our new land. It is the principal way to shed the vestiges of entitlement. It is the way to begin to participate in Ecuadorean culture, to understand how its complex weave of ethnicities, languages, traditions and customs is woven.
Of course, we want to stay connected to those we know speak the same language although who may, not always, have similar understandings of the meaning of life, as we initially thought!
There are various social and business activities which offer different kinds of involvement – “Gringo Nights,” writers’ groups, workout sessions at Curves Gym if you are a woman or Cams Gym if you are either or both; and Carolina Bookstore, Villa Nova Inn, Eucalyptus Restaurant, California Kitchen, Kookaburra Café, and the web site on which you are reading this article.
At the same time, as we begin to struggle to speak our new language we begin to listen more. By this, I mean listening or paying more attention to the way we treat Ecuadoreans in general, and Cuencanos in particular, as the “others.” Others who are less whatever – anything we want to attribute to “them” – language differences and cultural expectations, especially the concept of time. Why is it so difficult to listen and accept the invitation to enter into another culture without demanding that it fit our expectations. What expectations? Whose expectations? Instead of grudgingly receiving perhaps we could be graciously giving.
For example, an ex-pat I know who has lived here for many years volunteers in a local orphanage six days a week, two hours a day, with babies and toddlers to hold them, to talk with them, to share humanity with them. On the seventh day, this volunteer is in a rural elementary school teaching English. Or, maybe you have more than adequate funds and want to participate in EcoArte, a gringo created foundation and share hands on your artistic expertise, help feed the hundreds of Cuencanos who go hungry every day, or acquire high tech 21st century equipment for rural schools with extremely limited resources so Ecuadorean kids can begin to explore the larger world of cyberspace even as they teach their parents how to use computers. As your fluency increases in Spanish perhaps you can apply for a job teaching young people about your specific expertise.
As we watch, transfixed to our TV screens, millions of young people in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other countries challenge their corrupt regimes for changing understandings of democracy, work, a piece of life, even set themselves on fire for it, we need to remember with humility how our dying empires of privilege and entitlement historically contributed to this changing 21st century world. We need to remember the freedoms and wealth we have taken for granted.
Bienvenido to Ecuador new jubilados! What can you offer your new country?
Anne Carr teaches in the University of Azuay’s Schools of International Relations and Tourism, and also teaches Applied Linguistics at the University of Cuenca. She moved to Cuenca four years ago and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.