Ecuador Culture / Ecuador Lifestyle

The EEUU/Ecuador Connection

I just returned May 15th from a month in EEUU, or Estados Unidos, as the U.S. is known in South America. I thought I’d be hanging out mostly with gringos, but that was not the case. Everywhere I went I kept running into Ecuadorians or people with a connection to South America.

Saturday, April 21. A crowd watched a roughly-dressed peasant as he knelt at the foot of a tall wooden cross held by a monk who gazed heavenward. And what were those men in black uniforms and white wigs doing? Naturally, I had to investigate this strange scene.

Santa Barbara, California, was celebrating the 225th birthday of El Presidio, a military fortress of white-washed adobe brick. It was a chance to relive a bit of early California history with historical re-enactments such as the one I watched, traditional music and dance, pottery and adobe brick making in a wood-fired kiln, baking tortillas the old way and hands-on archeology activities.

The soldiers in the silly wigs, lugging around heavy blunderbusses, were Los Soldados de Cuera (soldiers of the Royal Presidio). As had occurred at the original founding day, there was a raising of the cross and the flag of Spain. Tribute was made to Saint Barbara, the city’s patron saint.

I stood next to a man carrying his small son, and lo and behold, he was Ecuadorian. Juan was not particularly happy about the activities taking place at El Presidio. In his opinion, the celebration was disrespectful of the indigenous people who had been subjugated during Spanish rule.

Juan was 15 years old when he ventured north to the land of the free with his family. His family believed that the United States was the greatest country on earth and he wanted to find out for himself. He traveled widely, spending time with the Hopis and other American Indians, immersing himself in the American Indian movement, North American history and culture.

His father had been an accountant in Ecuador in the ‘60’s and discovered inequities in government spending. With his life in danger, he fled to the U.S. with his entire family to escape persecution. His father has since returned to Ecuador, but Juan says he will stay in North America.

A few days later I made the acquaintance of Luis Liceti and his wife Sandra, the owners of “Kilu,” a great shop in Santa Barbara with Indonesian furniture made from recycled teak and handmade pillows from Peru with striking geometric designs. Luis is from Peru, of Italian and Spanish heritage, and Sandra is Dutch.

They met in Bali, lived there several years and built a house in the rounded Sumatran style. Now they are making Santa Barbara their home because they appreciate the stability, intellectual stimulation, good schools and interesting people.

Like many South American families, they live upstairs over their business. Not only is it an astute economic decision, with gas over $4 a gallon, it also allows them much more time with their children.

Luis quizzed me about woods and furniture available in Ecuador. He wants to visit soon and elicited a promise from me to send him pictures and furniture designs. Of course, I told him about San Antonio de Ibarra, the home of Ecuador’s master woodcarvers, renown throughout the world.

At Santa Barbara’s Earth Day, I met a Chilean architect who works in Santa Barbara but travels extensively to projects in South America.

One of the performing groups was the wonderfully frenetic “Boxtales,” performing an old Puerto Rican story called, “Paco and the Witch.” A booth sold rugs and painted bowls from Oaxaca, Mexico. At the Donate Life booth, I met a 46-year-old man who had received a new heart from a Mexican man.

Just down the hill from where I was staying is Milpas Street. With its panaderias, taquerias and Spanish grocery store stocked with tomatillos, huge papayas, trigo and frijoles, I could easily have been in Ecuador. I bought platanos, a cooking banana, which I love to bake and devour covered with raisins and cinnamon.

A large Saturday market just like the ones in Ecuador was spread out all over an asphalt parking lot. The same inexpensively-made jeans, socks and clothes, the same bargains on home-grown fruits and vegetables, the same smiling brown faces urging me to buy. Only this time in Spanglish.

From the red-tile-roofed colonial architecture to the preponderance of Spanish-named streets like El Paseo, Carrillo and Ortego, reminded me that in countless ways, the lines between the North and South American hemispheres are blurring, blending, mutating and becoming as one.

Having spent many years in Texas and California, I’m used to the influence the Spanish have had on North America, but didn’t realize it had extended so extensively as far north as St. Paul, Minnesota, where I traveled to visit my daughter. Every day I met someone with an Ecuadorian tale to tell.

While shopping with my daughter for her wedding dress, Sue at “The Wedding Shop” told me her “Darwinian” brother-in-law wrote his thesis on plants in Ecuador 15 years ago and loves the Galapagos.

Trying on a sweater in a boutique in St. Paul, I recognized striped scarves from Otavalo and asked the owner, Roxanne Sullivan, about them. She has been traveling to Ecuador with her husband for years and knows Ecuador and Otavalo well. Her first trip was in 1972.

She goes often and each time thinks that she will end up moving there. When I asked her what part of Ecuador she likes best, she replied, “The whole country!”

Even the girl who gave me a great haircut had an Ecuadorian connection and stories to relate. Nearly all of the North Americans who have visited Ecuador love it and plan to return.


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