By Katie Moran
Living with one’s parents until age 30 is not appealing to most North Americans. At 18, many teenagers say goodbye and leave the nest. Suddenly, a new life starts away from family, friends and everything one has known until that point. This is a coming-of-age moment that most U.S. and Canadian youth consider to be a given.
But what is a custom for North Americans is horrifying to Ecuadorians and other South American families.
“I just turned 28 and still live with my mother and sisters,” said Lorena Torres, a Quito native. “It’s weird to move out before you get married here. Why live by yourself when you can be with your family?”
Torres added that, out of economic necessity, married couples often stay with parents of one of the partners.
The importance of family in Ecuador comes before all other things: money, sleep, work. In many cases, brothers, sisters, cousins and parents all live in the same building so they can be near one another. When children go off to college, they live at home and commute every day. Most universities do not even have dormitory facilities as an option for students, and the idea of a child or sibling moving far away for a job opportunity or a change of scenery is uncommon.
“My family would be so upset if I decided to go to college in the United States,” said Jorge Ramirez, a student at the University of San Francisco in Quito. “Of course they want me to experience the world, but moving out is not an option for me.”
In the United States, the success and interests of each individual are highly valued. An aspiring doctor may move away from small-town America in order to pursue his or her dreams, and a struggling artist may move to New York City to exercise his or her creativity with others who have similar interests.
Many parents of college students understand and encourage the pursuit of all opportunities, and children can feel trapped if forced to stay in one place. The extent to which love is exhibited in American families is very different from South America.
“When I graduate, I am moving straight to Barcelona to teach English,” said Jessie Montalo, a student at Boston College. “(My parents) can’t wait to visit me.”
Every day around 1:00 p.m., Ecuadorians leave their jobs and reunite with their families for a large meal and pleasant conversation. This time is built into everyone’s daily schedule. “Family” consists of immediate, extended, adopted, in-laws, second-cousins, half-sisters, everyone. Houses are constantly filled with visitors stopping by, and many homes have extra rooms for overnight family sleepovers.
“Nothing is more important than family here,” said Marcia Amaquina Logacho, an Ecuadorian culture professor at the University of San Francisco, Quito. “Ecuadorians take pride in their country by taking pride in their family. As long as the family is healthy and living, we are happy. The idea of saving time in one’s day for family is extremely important. In the U.S., I feel like you try to do that, but it doesn’t always work out. Life is much more fast-paced and goal-oriented. But here, it’s part of the culture to include family in everything we do. It’s been ingrained in us for many centuries, and now it’s a part of life.”
Logacho teaches foreign exchange students about the differences in Ecuadorian culture in comparison to their own with an emphasis on understanding the South American way of life. Her goal is not to teach anyone that one culture is better than another, but to begin a dialogue for students to compare and contrast freely, she said.
For Americans, familial love is shown through the encouragement and pursuit of excellence and success, said Jamile Tellez, an Elon junior studying abroad in Quito.
“After coming here and seeing the importance of family, it makes me reconsider our relationship and interactions at home,” she said. “I think there may be a lot left to discover, and I can’t wait to see them again and show them how much I’ve changed.”
Katie Moran is a student at Elon University. Her report on Ecuadorian families was a school project.