Conversations About Race

This is the community where I live and work.

This is the community where I live and work.

I was sitting in the waiting room of the one doctor’s office in Pimampiro the other day. A friend was sick and it was taking very close to forever to get her in to the doctor. A man who knew my mom was there and started asking her questions about me until I started answering them myself and he realized that I do understand Spanish. He asked me lots of questions about the States, how the seasons change, how the weather is different in North Carolina than in California, how there are people from all over the world in the States and yes, we do have black people too. After I told him the last one, he sat thinking for a moment and then asked me, “Are the black people in the States bad like the ones here?”

I asked him to explain the question. Why did he think black Ecuadorians are bad? He told me they’re mean and they steal, kill people. I pointed out that so do Mestizos (the ethnic majority of Ecuador) and we had a conversation about how poverty is more a factor in crime than color. The afro-Ecuadorians have different communities here. They’re not segregated by law but definitely by culture. I’ve seen maybe 3 Afro-Ecuadorians living in Pimampiro and I only know for sure that one of them lives here. The other two might just work and live in other communities. The afro-Ecuadorian communities usually aren’t as well off, either. The people are poorer, not all the roads are paved, things are more run-down and yes, there is more crime. I told him their bad situation is more a factor in their actions than skin color and if a mestizo were in the same bad situation, they’d act the same.

And the thing is, this man was really listening. He wasn’t what we think of in the States as racist. He wasn’t closed-minded; he was trying to understand and I think he did. Several times during our conversation, you could see what I was saying started to click and he’d be like, huh! Well, that does make sense. His previous beliefs were more a result of cultural influence than any personal fault. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy. From other experiences I’ve had, I feel like he represents the sentiments of the majority of Ecuadorians.

Of course, as in the States, there are also those who are racist as a result of personal fault. There’s a family who visits from Quito who are good friends with my family and every time they’re here, they come by to eat at the restaurant my dad owns. We were sitting around talking in the restaurant when a couple came in who appeared to be friends with this family. In Ecuador and in most Latin American countries, there’s a celebration this time of year called Carnival. In other countries it’s different but here, we celebrate by ‘playing.’ We throw water on each other. It’s actually really fun; it’s like a big water gun fight except it lasts 4 days. And we don’t have water guns, just buckets. The larger black communities are famous for the festivals around this time, in which absolutely everyone plays with everyone. Mestizos in general are more conservative, and in their festivals, usually only play with friends. They wouldn’t just go up to someone they didn’t know and douse them with a bucket of water. In the black communities, that’s normal. I went to a festival in both a black community called El Juncal, and one in Pimampiro and personally, I thought El Juncal was more fun.

But anyway, this couple comes in and starts talking about how they went to a festival near the black communities and how it was so ugly, how horribly they play, etc. And they use the word that in Spanish is most associable to “nigger.” Negro is not a bad word in Spanish, by the way. It’s just saying someone’s black. Negrito is an endearing term for a black friend or other. But the word they use is moreno. I’m pretty sure that’s what it is. I don’t hear it that often so I could be wrong but I recognize it when I hear it and they were definitely using the racist term. They were saying how they were driving back up from the festival, which is always by the river. That day, it had started to rain near the end of the festivals and everyone hurried home, freezing because they were already soaking wet from Carnival. I know because I was at the Pimampiro festival that day and it was cooooooold.

Here, giving rides to people is kind of a courtesy. Especially going back to town from a festival, people pile into cars together. And they were talking snidely about how all the afro-Ecuadorians were trying to get a ride, freezing their butts off at the side of the road. The couple was driving a truck, which could have easily fit a bunch of people and they were calling them stupid, as if they would ever give people like them a ride. It made me angry listening to it but I felt like these weren’t people who were going to change so I just left the room.

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1 Comment

  1. uncle andy

     /  February 17, 2013

    Sarah – thank you for sharing your experience and observations. Your posting is thought-provoking and insightful. The topics of race, stereotypes and prejudice are complex and affect people at many levels. You are seeing them play out in a new (for you) environment but the issues are the same the world over. From the US to Japan to Europe and beyond I have found that in some ways people are much the same …. and unfortunately, a propensity to see people who are “different” as inherently “lesser” seems to be one of them. It is an honor to share a tiny bit of your journey with you through your words. Thank you. You remain in our hearts and prayers. — Uncle Andy

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