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Remembering that we are immigrants

I hosted a meeting at my home several months ago. When it was over, a couple approached me and introduced themselves, the woman presenting me her business card as one would a precious jeweled box. It was embossed and featured multiple bullet points, front, and back. The first entry detailed her successful rush into the desired sorority, the last listed the senior executive title she held for a firm I never heard of. I was perplexed. Surely, I had no intention of disrespecting her, but I had absolutely zero interest in, or use for, the information she provided. I didn’t care what she had done, my interest was in who she is, and in doing so I came to a clearer awareness of my own self and the distractions that clot my heart.

I have more friends and deeper friendships here after three years than I did in the states after living there for almost a lifetime. And I am not alone. One of the more common burdens newcomers discard is, “It’s not like I was disliked, I was just lonely, but rarely knew it. I just didn’t know anyone or know how to. And, I was afraid.”

Fortunately, all of that is behind us now. We have time to tell stories, ours and those of others, we have time to reflect on the thread that guided us here, and most importantly, we have time to listen to our own breath, and to imagine ourselves at peace in a safe, tranquil and lovely country.

A sizeable percentage of the gringos who moved here are good-hearted, honest and hard-working folks who were summarily dismissed by their homeland, forced off ancestral lands and compelled to find somewhere else to live out their lives with dignity. They are not expats — some elite subset dreamed up in a boardroom  —  they, and we, are immigrants. Pure and simple. It is an important distinction to note.

The Wall Street Journal, in an article titled, ‘Who is an expat, anyway?’ defined it this way: “Some arrivals are ex-pats; others as immigrants, and some are simply migrants. It depends on social class, country of origin and economic status.

Oh, my!

It seems that the editors of the WSJ, “The Daily Diary of the American Dream,” might be a bit démodé, but I suppose they were caught in the net of magical thinking while wishing for a return to the halcyon days of colonial elites being pampered by people beaten into submission — a wish that lingered in their dream state for a tad too long.

By the way, I’d like to see the WSJ list of acceptable countries of origin. I wonder if Seychelles, Brunei, or the Czech Republic made the grade.

We came to a country where very different propriety is in order.

It is poor form to simply blurt, “Hola,” and charge right into whatever you want to say. Instead, a polite conversation begins with commenting on, and complimenting the passing of time, be it morning, afternoon, or evening. This consistent recognition of being guided by time is an intrinsic acknowledgment that time is the elemental commodity that we share and that shaping our time is the basic element of self-expression as well as responsibility.

We can all take comfort in knowing that we are as dependent on time as the shimmering light of morning and that the glowing cobalt of evening is eternal and forever and always will be.

20 thoughts on “Remembering that we are immigrants

  1. If you were forced to leave, wouldn’t you be considered a refugee?

    I am guessing someone has been watching a lot of U.S. sourced cable news this weekend..

  2. You seem to be patronizing newcomers and lonely people, Robert. Ecuador is not a Shangri-la. I feel safer at my home in upstate NY where I leave the door unlocked during the day. I also don’t have to worry about someone lifting what I have in my back pocket. Feeling safe is not why I’m here. The politics in the US are not any crazier than they are in Ecuador. Every eight years the pendulum swings the other way. So why would anyone from the US be forced off their ancestral land to this country other than for economic reasons? Be truthful. After several years here, is café con leche still extraordinary?

    1. Although I do not feel unsafe in Cuenca, I can empathize with your feeling safe in upstate NY. I spent 25 years in Southern Vermont where we never locked the doors and most of the time the keys were in the car, unlocked of course. About 6 years ago we moved to Burlington, which in my mind is not really Vermont, other than Lake Champlain (which is likely frozen solid), it could be anywhere USA, but petty safe.

      This article seems to imply that expats here in Cuenca have been forced to leave their home country, and like you say some may have come for economic reasons. Speaking in generalities and for others is always dangerous, my reasons are mine alone as are most peoples. Mine involve family, getting the hell out of winter, and just something different. It is a choice I made and nobody forced me. Am I here forever, maybe, even probably, but who knows? And why does it matter and why does it matter what someone else thinks ?

      To imply that the WSJ’s interpretation of expat vs immigrant is accurate, or even close is misdirected. A quick google search will provide other definitions, one of them being permanency.

      After 10 years of back and forth between Vermont and Cuenca, I admit I miss my half and half, real cheddar cheese, and other things of course, but I knew that long ago.

    2. You make some good points. I have always referred to myself as an economic refugee to other expats and as a retired tourist to native Ecuadorians. I don´t drink whole milk and avoid white rice now because I have been programmed to avoid them to reduce viseral fat.. As a demonstration of my cheapness, I buy packets of 100% ground peanuts from Aki and mix in Canola oil to make my own peanut butter. I have often referred to the Cuenca gringo bubble which of course includes this website and many Facebook groups. Expats like to exaggerate their integration into this culture as well as their reasons for being here. It is always going to be that way.

      1. If you have a food processor, you can just thrown a pound of peanuts, and five minutes later–voila–you have a jar of peanut, which by the remains easily spreadable, even straight from the fridge, and never seems to separate, for some reason.

    3. I grew up in Plattsburgh, NY and my husband and I lived in the Burlington, VT area for almost 40 years. I’m wondering if we’ve met. This is our 4th trip here and our 2nd time to spend ~6 months via Tourist Visa/Extension.

      1. We probably have not met. Plattsburgh is way north of where our home is in southern NY State. We plan to be back in Ecuador in April. Maybe we will meet then.

        1. Thank you for responding. I thought your initial posting indicated that you lived in upstate NY. We will leave Cuenca in late March and expect to return here next October. Maybe we will meet at a later date.

  3. Robert, you photos either bring a smile to my face or tug at my heart. Sometimes they do both. I’m going to have to re-read your script to give it more thought.

  4. I am an immigrant. I was made to feel unwelcome in the States. In 2 years of living in Ecuador I now have more friends than 40 years in the US.

  5. I’ve never needed to define myself and my status . We live here. I use the term ex pats because a lot of family and friends will identify with that term. I don’t like Gringo because of negative connotation in Mexico. Are we immigrants? No , i was an immigrant to the USA. Meaning i was staying come hell or high water . I see no reason to not stay in Ecuador . I like the people and expat friends. I don’t need to agonize about my status or what I’m called.

  6. Do you people ever meet face to face and argue or do you hide away behind away your laptops? There’s constant arguments between yourselves,often personal and nothing to do with the subject printed. Please can you either email each other or text. It’s so petty and juvenile

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